Ruto steps up defence on Haiti deployment

Ruto Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Kenyan President William Ruto during an official White House State Arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

What you need to know:

  • On a joint podium with US President Joe Biden, Ruto told the audience Kenya is a voluntary contributor to what humanity needs.
  • The two leaders spoke at a joint press briefing in Washington, after a bilateral meeting that formed part of Ruto’s State Visit.

President Ruto: It's not the US committing Kenya to Haiti, I am committing Kenya's participation

President William Ruto on Thursday stepped up his defence of deploying 1,000 police officers to troubled Haiti, swatting away criticism that Nairobi was doing the heavy lifting for Washington.

On a joint podium with US President Joe Biden, Ruto told the audience Kenya is a voluntary contributor to what humanity needs. The two leaders spoke at a joint press briefing in Washington, after a bilateral meeting that formed part of Ruto’s State Visit.

The issue of Haiti was always going to arise. On both sides, journalists queried, Nairobi’s priorities, or whether Washington was pushing the can down the road. The event came as Haitian civil society groups also penned an open letter to Ruto asking him to rescind the move.

Ruto said he believes the responsibility of peace and security is the responsibility of all nations “because we have been participating in peacemaking and peacekeeping in 47 countries like what we are facing in Haiti.”

“Committing Kenya to Haiti is not so much about what happened in the past. We don’t find that the US is committing Kenya to Haiti. I am the President of Kenya and I decide. It is up to the people of Kenya to commit their troops through their own established (legal) structures,” Ruto said. He was adding a comment to Biden’s response to a query about the US staying away from directly sending troops to Haiti.

The US President had indicated they avoided sending boots there because it could raise “a lot of questions…. which will “be used by those who disagree with us.”

Haiti, the Carribean country has been troubled with coups and assassinations for decades. But the immediate problem is the rise of gangs and lawlessness.

In October last year, the US which was the ‘pen holder’ on Haiti in the UN Security Council managed to push through a resolution that authorised the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS).

It wouldn’t be a UN peacekeeping mission in the strictest sense, but the US pledged $300 million worth of equipment, capacity building and cash to help Kenyan troops and other volunteering countries step into Haiti.

Kenya’s initial 200 troops were expected this week but the move was delayed until their relevant equipment was shipped to Haiti. Kenya was also expected to submit a clear document on the operational procedures including how the troops will protect civilian rights and stay within the law.

Some Haitian groups have been raising their voices, however, asking Kenya to rethink the move.

A group identified as Movement Unforgettable Dessalines Jean Jacques (MUDJJ) argued on Thursday that their country’s problems should be solved internally.

The movement is named after Dessalines Jean Jacques, the emperor of Haiti who proclaimed his country's independence in 1804. Jacques was born in West Africa and was taken to the Caribbean-based country as a slave.

This comes at a time when several officers have left the country for Haiti and were scheduled to pass through the United States of America (USA).

“As an esteemed African leader, we have always regarded you as a brother in our shared journey towards progress and unity. However, recent actions have given us reason to pause and reflect on this perception,” the open letter signed by Eliphete Joseph who is the MUDJJ leader read.

According to MUDJJ it was unfortunate that all the plans of leading a foreign military in Haiti were being handled by President Ruto as they said that it was only likely to cause more harm than good.

It said that Haiti is a proud country which has a rich history of resilience and bravery.

“Our forefathers, under the leadership of Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines, fought valiantly to defeat Napoleon's army and secure our freedom, making Haiti the first black free nation,” the statement read.

“Henceforth, any foreign military presence on Haitian soil will be considered an act of aggression, making every Haitian life a direct responsibility of your government,” the statement revealed.

In Kenya, a legal challenge mounted by lawyer and Thirdway Alliance leader Ekuru Auko has frustrated initial steps after courts blocked the earlier programme, citing constitutional gaps.

In Washington, Ruto argued the that legal gap has since been filled after both sides signed a bilateral agreement. But the lawyer has sustained the challenge in Court, citing illegalities.

Nonetheless, Ruto argued Haiti, despite being 10,000km away from Nairobi was just as needy as banditry-prone areas in Kenya or a troubled country in East Africa.

This State Visit was supposed to also commemorate 60 years of diplomatic ties between Kenya and the US and Washington followed that by elevating relations, naming Kenya as the 19th country considered as a non-NATO ally.

As the only Sub-Saharan Africa with that title, Nairobi won’t have a defence pact with the US yet. But the labelling allows Kenya to enjoy some form of privilege in defence cooperation, including working relationships with the US defence agencies.

Ruto is expected to return to Nairobi on Friday.