Police deployment in question as Haiti situation worsens

William Ruto and Ariel Henry

President William Ruto and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry at State House, Nairobi on March 1, 2024.

Photo credit: PCS

What you need to know:

  • Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier has issued an ultimatum to PM Ariel Henry to step down.
  • PM Ariel Henry was supposed to step down in February so that elections could be held.

The current volatile situation in Haiti has raised questions on whether Kenyan police officers set to be deployed in the gang controlled Caribbean country will be able to restore order.

The government has remained tight-lipped on the deployment three months after Parliament approved it.

Already, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the deteriorating security situation could get out of hand if the international community does not act.

On Wednesday, Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier alias Barbecue, a former police officer, allegedly issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down.

Mr Guterres has indicted that Mr Henry’s whereabouts after he left Kenya, where he signed a “reciprocal agreement” with the government to deploy the police officers, remains unknown.

“If Ariel Henry doesn’t resign, if the international community continues to support him, we’ll be heading straight for a civil war that will lead to genocide,” Cherizier, 46, told reporters in the capital Port-au-Prince, news outlet Aljazeera reported.

“Either Haiti becomes a paradise or a hell for all of us. It’s out of the question for a small group of rich people living in big hotels to decide the fate of people living in working-class neighbourhoods,” Cherizier is reported to have said.

Mr Henry, who came to power under a deal agreed with the opposition following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, was supposed to step down in February so that elections could be held.

Kenyan MPs last year, during a joint approval hearing by the National Assembly and Senate security committees, questioned the probability of the deployment’s success.

Among the issues raised by lawmakers included a well-defined insurance package for the officers, compensation for the families of the officers killed or injured and assurance that no taxpayer money shall be spent on the mission.

The MPs also called on the government to come clean on whether only the 1,000 officers will serve or there will be a change, and asked the State to consider reducing the number to be deployed to 500 in order not to jeopardise security back home.

They further demanded the report of a multi-agency team from Kenya that carried out an assessment of the mission led by Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Gabow.

The team went for the assessment between August 16 and 27 last year carried out an assessment mission upon invitation by Haitian authorities.

During the joint hearing, nominated senator Karen Nyamu, who is also the vice-chairperson of the Senate security committee, was among those who opposed the deployment saying Kenyan officers are not the best trained in the world.

“I’m skeptical about this deployment, other countries with more trained officers have withdrawn their officers. We should be cautious on this,” Ms Nyamu said in November last year.

Interior CS Kithure Kindiki however told MPs that the assessment report indicated that Kenya has the required capacity and capability to support the Haiti national police as part of a multinational support mission.

The assessment team also noted that the multi-nation security support mission has wide acceptance in Haiti.

Security analyst George Musamali said the question should not be on whether Kenyan police officers are well trained but whether they are mentally prepared to deal with the volatile situation.

“We are going there alone with Americans financing us and even providing the equipment, but are we mentally and physically ready to deal with the challenges” he said.

“The people we are calling gangs in Haiti feel they are legitimately fighting for their rights and they will therefore see Kenyan officers as part of the enemy who support the leaders imposed on them.” 

Mr Musamali claimed that Americans are setting Kenya up for failure since they have better trained officers but have kept off the mission.

Appearing before the joint Parliament committee last year, Prof Kindiki told MPs that Kenya will spend Sh36 billion towards the deployment, a cost that will be borne by the UN.

Mr Musamali, however, said the mission is not sponsored by the UN and the government should not hoodwink Kenyans that the world body will fund it.

“The UN, through a resolution, only approved individual countries who are willing to send their troops, but it is not their mission, they will not fund it. The troops in Haiti will not wear the blue berets that are synonymous with troops deployed by the UN,” Mr Musamali said.

The deployment of the officers had been fiercely opposed by the opposition, arguing it failed to meet the requirements of the National Police Service Commission Act, which sets out conditions for sending officers on foreign missions.

The Act stipulates that before the President orders such a deployment, there must be a legitimate government in the country the officers are being deployed to, reciprocity and a request from the reciprocating country.

Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome told MPs last year that the officers for the mission have been carefully chosen and are drawn from different specialised units. 

“We have carefully chosen these officers, taken them through interviews, checked their medical fitness and we are confident that they are fully prepared for the mission ahead,” he said.

“I want to urge Parliament to allow us to deploy the officers to Haiti because what is going on in Haiti cannot be allowed to go on anymore,” he added.

President William Ruto has insisted that the government will deploy the police officers despite a court order.

The court noted that in reference to Article 240 of the constitution that allows the National Security Council to deploy defence forces when requested by the UN Security Council , the NPS does not fall under defence forces.