Haiti receives first Kenyan officers to battle gang violence

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African country will lead coalition aiming to bolster police force overwhelmed by fierce fighting in the Caribbean nation.

The first planeload of Kenyan police officers landed in Haiti on Tuesday morning, marking the beginning of a long-stalled international task force intended to wrest control of the Caribbean country from violent gangs. Kenya had volunteered to lead the UN-authorised operation, known as the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti last July, with 1,000 officers. But the rollout was delayed by legal obstacles in the east African nation amid political and humanitarian crises in Haiti. Dozens of officers, carrying rifles and wearing military fatigues, disembarked from a Kenya Airlines jet on the tarmac of the country’s main international airport in Port-au-Prince, according to videos shared by witnesses. On Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto had addressed the 400 departing officers in Nairobi. “Our police officers’ presence in Haiti will give relief to the men, women and children whose lives have been broken by gang violence. We will work with the international community to bring lasting stability in Haiti,” Ruto said. Haiti’s national police force, with approximately 9,000 officers, has struggled to contain about 200 gangs that have grown in power since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Gang violence led to the collapse in April of the interim government of Ariel Henry. He was replaced by a transitional presidential council tasked with convening Haiti’s first elections since 2016. Amid the escalating violence, Haiti’s displaced population jumped 60 per cent between March and June, from 360,000 to 580,000, according to the UN. Hospitals have been forced to close due to gang activity, while schools are being used as shelters for refugees. Gangs are estimated to control more than 80 per cent of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The much-anticipated Kenya-led mission is expected to bolster Haiti’s outmatched police force with about 2,500 additional officers, with Caribbean and African nations, including Barbados, Jamaica and Chad, as well as Bangladesh, agreeing to provide personnel. The US state department welcomed news of the deployment at a briefing on Monday. “With the arrival of MSS mission personnel, we hope to see further measurable improvements in security, particularly with respect to access to humanitarian aid and core economic activity,” said state department spokesman Matthew Miller. Ruto is one of the US’s staunchest allies in Africa. Washington is the main backer of the Haiti mission, pledging about $300mn in support, though it has stopped short of sending troops. The deployment had faced legal challenges, and Kenya’s high court blocked it in January. But Ruto managed to push it through after signing a bilateral agreement with Haitian officials in Port-au-Prince in March.

Last month, Ruto — recalling Africa’s ties with Haiti, which is part of the African Union diaspora region — told the FT his country’s forces “have requisite experience to deal with this”, having been part of more than 40 peacekeeping missions, including neighbouring Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the former Yugoslavia. The deployment to Haiti comes amid turmoil in Kenya, where several people were killed and injured by police gunfire on Tuesday during anti-tax protests, as demonstrators stormed the country’s parliament. Analysts and diplomats say the mission in Haiti is risky. Previous interventions in the country have done little to prevent the resurgence of violence, especially after the 2010 earthquake which devastated the capital. “Everyone knows that in the international co-operation world, people like to repeat what was done before, no matter how bad it was, because it’s convenient,” said Emmanuela Douyon, who runs the Haitian think-tank Policité.

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