Queries emerge over Kenya’s Haiti mission

Wednesday, October 4th, 2023 05:30 | By
President William Ruto accompanied by his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi. PHOTO/Print

The United Nations (UN) Security Council has adopted a resolution authorising the one-year deployment of a non-UN multinational force, led by Kenya to Haiti to combat gangs and restore security amid tough questions on the mission’s role, mandate and strategy.

Both Russia and China abstained from voting, saying the decision was rushed. They also raised questions over the rules of engagement and exit strategy.

Opposition from the two superpowers came amid growing concerns that the Haitian armed gangs are committing acts of extreme violence and human rights abuses, and that just using an international force to secure critical infrastructure would not work.

Though the US State Department has said it is up to the Haitian government to define with their Kenyan counterpart how the mission should be shaped, they have also repeatedly highlighted that a non-UN multinational force, such as what is being considered, would free up the Haiti National Police to focus on battling gangs while the foreign officers protect critical infrastructures.

Questions were also raised on the viability and success of the mission in a country lacking a stable democratic government given the fact that five such previous foreign interventions ended up on a disastrous note.  Of the 15 countries, 13 voted in favour while Russia and China abstained. A number of issues, including training for the officers, parameters of their involvement, exit strategy and the level of preparedness of the forces have, however, been raised by various players, including experts on security and international relations.

 Japan, for example, voted in support of the deployment but warned that the forces needed to prepare well for the mission. Shino Mitsuko, the Japan Representative, said though they supported the mission due to the gravity of insecurity in Haiti, there needs to be thorough preparation and careful assessment of the situation on the ground.

Fully aware

“The mission was authorised in response to the urgent, repeated calls of the Haitian Government.  It is, however, the first step in responding to the crisis,” Mitsuko explained, underlining the “need for thorough preparation, a careful assessment of the situation on the ground and establishment of an appropriate command structure.”

She added that addressing the security situation alone was insufficient, and must go hand in hand with Haiti’s efforts to restore resilient democratic institutions, establish an accountable Government and provide basic services and development opportunities.

The Russian Federation’s Representative Vassily Nebenzia said they had abstained, although they were fully aware of the urgency of problems facing Haiti.

He noted that Chapter VII of the UN Charter was being invoked blindly, saying some information, including the force’s withdrawal strategy, was not clear.

“Armed forces being sent to a nation is an extreme measure that had to be thought through,” he said, adding that foreign interference had blighted Haiti in the past, and without precise parameters, the mission’s mandate was short-sighted.

China’s delegate Zhang Jun said without a legitimate and effective government in place, any external support can hardly have any lasting effect. President William Ruto yesterday welcomed the resolution as an overdue and critical instrument to define the multinational mission, adding that the mission was of special significance and critical urgency. Resolution mandates the Multinational Security Support Mission to reinforce the Haiti National Police with operational support and other joint interventions.

President Ruto said the mission is a foundational intervention, to provide the necessary conditions for Haiti to consolidate its development and governance.

Operational scope

“It is therefore absolutely essential that resources as well as operational scope available to the UN team, as well as other humanitarian and development actors on the ground in Haiti, be appropriately reinforced,” the President said.

With the approval, Kenya will deploy its force to Haiti by January 2024. The force will not operate under a UN flag, but it is sponsored by the United States.

Council has also developed framework for and authorised the mission, with a review after nine months.

The mission is also mandated to secure the country’s critical infrastructure including air and seaports as well as other vital transit arteries and intersections.

However, critics have warned that if the Kenya plan goes ahead and fails, Haitians, who have had to warm to the idea of another foreign intervention, will be angry and turn on those in charge.

Critics to this proposal for members of the mission to only consign itself to guarding infrastructure, argue that for them to get to the so-called critical infrastructure, the multinational force would have to go through gang controlled areas, even though the facilities themselves aren’t technically under the control of gangs. The proposal also does not take into account the difficult reality of the country’s beleaguered police force, which recently announced a new departmental director for the Port-au-Prince region, where gangs invaded several neighborhoods in August.

Sources familiar with the Kenyan delegation that recently visited Haiti also pointed to one worrisome sign...... the delegation saw very little of Port-au-Prince during their visit.

Sources said Kenyans were so fearful of volatility and the gangs, who days earlier had turned the capital into a war zone with attacks on several neighborhoods, that they stayed at US embassy.

As the President gambles with the mission, other unanswered questions include claims on whether Kenya is acting at the behest of US; how the $ 100 million (Sh14.8 billion ) would be used ; criterion to be used in selection of officers; main reasons and interests in Kenya’s excitement over the mission and whether Kenya would accept a-yet-to-be-agreed upon proposal to install a stable democratic and accepted government in Haiti.

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