Kenya’s President Ruto visits US as police deployment to Haiti takes shape

Kenyan officials say Haiti deployment is imminent as William Ruto to hold talks with US President Joe Biden this week.

Kenyan President William Ruto speaks during an interview
Kenyan President William Ruto will hold talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden on May 23 at the White House in Washington, DC, the United States [File: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Kenyan President William Ruto is on a visit to the United States this week, amid efforts to deepen economic and security cooperation between the two countries, as well as launch a long-stalled police deployment to Haiti.

The trip comes as US President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to strengthen partnerships with African nations amid growing competition on the continent with its top geopolitical rivals, China and Russia.

Ruto, who will hold talks with Biden at the White House on Thursday, is also visiting the US as a United Nations-backed initiative to send a Kenya-led police force to Haiti appears to be solidifying.

The UN Security Council last year authorised the multinational support mission, which its backers say is needed to help restore security in the Caribbean country amid years of widespread gang violence and instability.

But a recent wave of deadly attacks by Haitian armed groups – particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince – delayed the mission.

Now, Kenyan officials say a deployment is imminent as a shaky political transition is under way in Haiti, and the country’s main airport, in Port-au-Prince, recently reopened.

Korir Sing’Oei, Kenya’s principal secretary of foreign affairs, told reporters on Sunday that the country was finalising preparations for the mission. “I can tell you for sure that that deployment will happen in the next few days, few weeks,” said Sing’Oei.

The deployment is expected to number about 2,500 members, a UN official said in December, including 1,000 Kenyan police officers.

The US Southern Command also said this month that contractors had been flown to Haiti “to set up the temporary living area for the eventual arrival of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission”. Equipment and supplies have been delivered, as well.

Outstanding questions

However, Meron Elias, an east and southern Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, said last week that sticking points remained between the US and Kenya over the mission.

Kenya is “demanding the US do more to rally financial support for the UN basket fund that will cover the mission’s costs”, Elias explained.

“Kenya also wants the US to commit greater backing to stemming the flow of arms into Haiti, including from US ports in Florida.”

Samar al-Bulushi, a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said on Tuesday that Kenya’s decision to lead the mission “represents the culmination” of years-long efforts by Nairobi to build strong security ties to Washington.

Speaking during a Quincy Institute panel discussion on US-Kenya ties and the Haiti deployment, al-Bulushi said “there has been considerable opposition” to the Haiti mission among Kenyans as well.

“There was zero public consultation about the decision to lead this mission to Haiti, and I think a lot of Kenyans are frustrated about that fact,” she said.

Martin Mavenjina at the Kenya Human Rights Commission in Nairobi told Al Jazeera last August that the Kenyan police force “has a known history of human rights violations” – and that should be discussed before any mission can be deployed.

Deadly violence

Over the past year, as uncertainty over the mission prevailed, human rights groups also said safeguards would be critical to protect Haitians from the woes of past foreign interventions.

Most recently, a UN peacekeeping mission was linked to a deadly cholera outbreak and sexual abuse allegations, spurring opposition to the prospect of foreign forces being deployed to the country again.

But as armed groups have grown more independent and unleashed deadly violence in Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti in recent months, many Haitian civil society leaders and citizens say the country needs help to restore security.

The most recent wave of unrest, which kicked off in February with attacks on police stations, prisons and other state institutions, forced Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down.

An interim presidential council has since been appointed to lead the country, but major concerns and uncertainty persist. About 362,000 people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced as a result of the violence, according to UN figures.

“Because the US, the UN and the other donor countries in Haiti, have let the gangs get so strong and let the situation erode to such a level, they need a security intervention of some sort,” said Daniel Foote, a former US special envoy to Haiti who has been critical of foreign interventions.

“The Haitian National Police is decimated,” Foote said during Tuesday’s panel.

But, Foote said, it remained unclear who the Kenya-led mission would be working for, given the lack of a functioning government in Haiti. He also questioned whether a 1,000-officer force would be able to restore security.

“People need somebody to control the streets so they can get bread, so they can deliver crucial goods to people who need it in the hospitals,” Foote said.

Source: Al Jazeera