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Why is Kenya sending one thousand police officers to Haiti?

Updated: May 23

Caitlin Hoyland

A year after Haiti asked for help in fighting the persistent gang violence within the country, the United Nations Security Council has authorised a foreign mission to Haiti. 

An estimated 200 gangs operate across Haiti, relentlessly terrorising the population. So far, they have forced 200,000 people to flee their homes. In 2023 alone, gang violence has killed 3,000 people. 

With the UN's blessing and $100 million as a gift from the US government, Kenya has pledged to send 1,000 police to Haiti. Kenya's Foreign Affairs Minister, Alfred Mutua, explained in a post on X that Kenya's motivations for the mandate are not only about bringing peace and security – Nairobi wants to play a part in the 'rebuilding' of Haiti.

The Security Council also announced that it would expand the UN arms embargo to include all gangs, not just specific individuals or groups. Most guns used by gangs in Haiti have been smuggled from the US. Indeed, between 2021 and 2022, there was a surge in weapon trafficking from Florida to Haiti, with profits per gun amounting to as much as $10,000. 

However, the effectiveness of an arms embargo is inconclusive. Firstly, gangs in Haiti are typically interested in small arms and light weapons because they are unlikely to be detected in their transfer. Further, embargoes tend to fortify asymmetries in power. At the same time, the state lacks the resources to reclaim control and stability and is forced to comply. The belligerent non-state actors continue to operate on their terms.

Hindering the development and sovereignty of weaker states has always served to maintain the world order. Haiti's history reveals this.

Haiti was the first postcolonial Black republic, overthrowing its French oppressors in 1804. Only twelve years prior, France had declared its independence, founded upon the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Of course, these were only a façade for the insipid racism of the colonial power. Indeed, France refused to recognise Haiti's independence until 1825, when Haiti agreed to pay 'reparations' equivalent to about $21 billion today, a wicked violation that left Haiti in poverty and instability for two centuries

France, as well as the US, has significantly suppressed Haiti's development. The former French Ambassador to Haiti, Thierry Burkhard, even admitted to the Times that, in 2004, France and the United States orchestrated a coup d’état against the then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was a coup that propelled Haiti into severe instability. Aristide had been demanding reparations from France, and, as Burkhard explained, it was just easier to have Aristide kidnapped than to go through the fuss of rejecting his claim. 

Furthermore, a shocking Wikileaks report in 2011 revealed how President Obama condemned Haiti for raising its minimum wage from 31 cents to 61 cents per hour and forced Haiti's president to procure a $3-a-day minimum wage for textile companies. American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss depend on textile workers in Haiti being paid sub-poverty wages so that the corporate owners can sustain their luxury lifestyles.

The current de facto Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, was also installed in July 2021 at the behest of the US and France. He has since then governed tyrannically. Despite this, close relationships have been maintained between Henry and the French and American leaders. For example, unelected Prime Minister Henry was invited by President Biden to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles – a summit that excluded the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua because of their alleged 'low democratic standards'.

Having exercised so much influence over Haitian politics, it is curious that the US has been so reticent in responding to Henry's call for foreign assistance against gang violence. Why has the US agreed to support Kenyan police instead of sending its own? 

One explanation for this cautiousness points to the outcomes of previous UN interventions. In particular, the UN's 2004-2017 MINUSTAH mission which sparked a sexual abuse scandal and a cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of 9,000 people. 

Of course, the US does not wish to give up control over Haiti; it just doesn't want to be the face of this particular mission. This is probably also why the White House was so quick to express its gratitude (in the form of $100 million) to Kenya when it volunteered to lead the force. For Kenya, this mission is an opportunity to demonstrate itself as a dependable ally to the international community.

Nairobi-based analyst Dismas Mokua explained to Al Jazeera the other perks afforded to Kenya by leading the force. For example, Kenyan law enforcement agencies will receive specialised training, equipment, resources, and financial capital. Meanwhile, the US can more or less dictate the movement of the intervention without being responsible for any potential repercussions. 

But what could these repercussions be? After all, Haiti receives the requested help, even if significantly belatedly. 

13 out of the 15 security council members voted in favour of a foreign mission in Haiti. The two abstaining states were Russia and China. While they are both dubious of the real intentions behind the mission, they are in favour of the extended arms embargo. 

China upholds the principle of respect for sovereignty and non-interference, so the proposed mission inherently conflicts with this principle. The Chinese ambassador, Zhang Jun, explains that for foreign intervention to work, Haiti needs a legitimate government, and Haitians must be able to decide their destiny

Hatians see their future away from the US sphere. A survey carried out by Premise in March this year asked Haitian people which country they would prefer to lead a military intervention in Haiti. The most favoured state was Russia, receiving more than double the number of votes than the US.

Without denying the urgency of the problems confronting Haiti, Russian Ambassador Dmitri Polianski explained that it would be better for the mission to be more precisely thought through. He pointed to the long history of failed foreign interventions to explain his disapproval of the mission. 

Whilst power and money buttress this mission, can Haiti expect to achieve stability and prosperity? And will Haiti need to move away from the influence of the West in order to achieve it? 

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