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Kenya’s mission to Haiti is ready for intervention

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Kenya has temporarily halted controversial plans to send a specially trained contingent of 1,000 police officers to Haiti, where armed gang violence recently took a turn for the worse. After a visit to Nairobi in early March where he signed terms for Kenya’s deployment, Haitian prime minister Ariel Henry was forced to resign as gangs took control of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. In the absence of a government in Haiti, plans to deploy Kenyan troops are on hold. Oscar Gakuo Mwangi, who studies radicalisation and counter-terrorism in Kenya, takes a look at Kenya’s preparedness to take on Haiti’s urban gangs.

What do we know about the Kenyan standby contingent?

The United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of a multinational mission to support Haiti in October 2023. The UN resolution also designated Kenya as mission leader.

Other countries that have formally agreed to provide personnel are Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica. The mission is expected to support the efforts of the Haitian national police in restoring security and building conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections in the country. The initial period of the mission is 12 months following the adoption of UN Resolution 2699 (2023). It will be reviewed nine months after the adoption of the resolution.

The multinational mission relies on the contribution of personnel, equipment, and financial and logistical resources by UN member states and regional organisations. Several countries have pledged financial, personnel and logistical support. These include the United States, Canada, Benin, France, Germany, Jamaica and Spain.

The Kenyan contingent, which is on standby, consists of 1,000 officers drawn from National Police Service units: the paramilitary General Service Unit, Rapid Deployment Unit, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and Border Police Unit.

Kenya’s police officers will face organised violent criminal groups in Haiti. At home, they regularly quell the activities of criminal groups. However, they have been accused of doing this through punitive measures that go against domestic and international laws and practices. This has led to human rights violations when it comes to policing violent non-state actors.

As the lead country, Kenyan police officers will provide overall mission command, mainly by supporting and building the functional capacity of Haiti’s police officers to plan and conduct joint security operations. These are required to counter gangs, and to provide security for critical infrastructure in the country. In Haiti, the officers will wear the jungle green uniforms that they normally use when deployed to operational areas.

What kind of training have they had?

Preparations began in late 2023 with meetings between Kenya’s and Haiti’s police teams. The discussions covered pre-deployment requirements like preparing the mission’s documents – the training curriculum, the concept of operations and protocol around discipline and use of force, and vetting processes. The preparation requirements have been met. Kenya has trained its first contingent of officers with a verified and robust UN curriculum. The United States Mission to the United Nations verified the curriculum.

The training has been conducted within the UN’s framework. The Haiti mission resolution requested all participating countries to ensure that any plans and operations strictly adhered to international laws, particularly human rights laws.
Troops are required to have expertise in anti-gang operations and community-oriented policing. They also need to be able to combat illicit trafficking and diversion of arms and related materiel, and enhance borders and ports management and control.

In my view as a political scientist who assesses Kenya’s counter-terrorism polices and operations, the Kenyan contingent has sufficient training and the requisite expertise. Despite their poor human rights records, various Kenya police units play a vital role in reducing violence in the country.

This is done through community policing, seizing illegal weapons, online discourse, and tracking and neutralizing armed militias and terrorists. The police rely on local and international security cooperation and trainingintelligence gathering techniques and the adoption of modern security equipment.

What international support can they expect if deployed?

Kenya requires US$241.4 million to prepare its 1,000 officers for the deployment. These costs include US$1.5 million for training, US$9.1 million for weapons, ammunition and anti-riot equipment, and US$157 million for administrative support. The US has pledged US$59 million to cover the costs of airlifting personnel and equipment to Haiti.

The US is already supporting Kenya in establishing the mission structure and training personnel for deployment. In October 2023, the American government announced plans to provide U$200 million for the mission. In March 2024, it pledged another US$100 million. These contributions will cater for deployment, preparing facilities in Haiti, reimbursements and salaries. The US will also provide the mission with helicopters and vehicles, and cater for food.

Pre-deployment training for the Kenyan contingent has been completed. The US has said it will reimburse the country for training costs. The interior ministry has said Kenya is willing to cover various costs and be refunded by the UN Security Council. Though Kenya is facing a fiscal crisis over high debt levels, the government can finance the costs through a supplementary budget.

What’s the case for deploying, and the case against?

The deployment will contribute towards Kenya’s role in enhancing global peace and security, and its stature in international affairs. It will also strengthen Kenya’s position as an anchor state in regional, continental and global affairs. Kenya’s police service also stands to gain more experience in international policing.

However, the Kenyan contingent is likely to be perceived as an occupation force if it fails to acknowledge the vital role armed gangs play in addressing Haiti’s governance problems. Kenya must acknowledge the gangs can be part of the solution, not only the problem. Inadequate international logistical and combat support may hinder the contingent’s capacity to perform its duties professionally. This would erode its legitimacy in Haiti.

This article was first published on the Conversation:

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