A protestor adds a tire to a burning barricade during a demonstration to protest the killings of six police officers by armed gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 26, 2023.


The gangs running Haiti

Criminal gangs in Haiti, where 1,000 National Police Service (NPS) officers are to restore order, have been used to spread terror, disrupt political rallies and repress opposition supporters.

This is according to the United Nations (UN), which now says that the gang menace that has gripped Haiti began in 1995 under former Haitian President Jean Aristide.

Two weeks ago, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS) to Haiti, paving the way for countries such as Kenya to send their pledged armed personnel to the Caribbean country. 

The resolution was approved by 13 of the 15 Council members, including Africa's representatives, Mozambique, Ghana and Gabon, and now authorises the deployment of a mission whose legality has been controversial in Kenya.

In its new findings, the UN now says that politics in Haiti is more closely linked to the violence on the ground.

"The intersection of politics, violence, power and territory has been a dominant factor in defining the security and political landscape in Haiti," the UN said in a report released over the weekend. 


A man holds a pvc pipe as tires burn during a protest against insecurity, on August 7, 2023, near the Prime Minister's official house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Photo credit: Richard Pierrin | AFP

President Aristide outlawed paramilitary groups and disbanded the Haitian armed forces, creating the Haitian National Police, which has since struggled to deal with the gangs, so much so that it has sought foreign help.

The incomplete integration process led former soldiers to form armed groups, which continued to operate until 2004.

"In addition, over the years, local self-defence groups or 'baz' (base) merged with the state police to support Aristide's political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Initially politically motivated, these bases became increasingly independent, forming de facto leaderships in the slums of Port-au-Prince," the UN said.

According to the UN, since the withdrawal of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti in 2017 and the UN Justice Support Mission in 2019, gangs have grown and filled the void left by UN troops and police units.

Much has happened since 2018, including the assassination of former President Jovenel Moise, an economic crisis, anti-government protests, a nationwide lockdown and massacres. 

The UN has also listed a number of alleged gang leaders controlling parts of the country, their mondus operandi and what they are wanted for.

Interestingly, some of those listed are wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for a number of allegations made against them.

Those mentioned include; Jummy Cherizier alias Barbaque, a former Haitian police officer Iskar Andrice, Christ-Roi Cherry, Krache Dife, Wilson Pierre, Micanor Felix, Jouma Albert, Mathias Sainthill and Ezekiel Alexander.

Others are: Claudy Celestine, who used to be a civil servant at the Ministry of the Interior, Misidye, Manno, Garry Lyron, Tyson, June Carel, Gabriel Jean and Kempes Sanon.

Vitelhomme Innocent, Johnson Andre, Emmanuel Solom, Renel Destince, Kilik and Bougoy are also listed. 

Among those wanted by the FBI is Emmanuel Solomon, who in January 2021 was part of a group of Deu Deu gang members involved in the kidnapping of a United States (US) national for ransom.

According to the FBI, Mr Solomon is the second-in-command of the Deu Deu gang, and they allegedly held the US national until the ransom was paid. They later released him as a US citizen.

Another man wanted by the FBI is Renel Destina, leader of a gang known as Gran Ravine. He is also accused of being involved in the kidnapping of a US citizen for ransom.

Another man wanted by the FBI is Vitel Homme Innocent, described as the leader of a gang called Kraze Banje. He is accused of kidnapping 17 Christian missionaries in Haiti, including 15 children, one just eight months old.

They were held at gunpoint and most were held for 61 days until a ransom was paid to the gang and they were released.

The other is Lanmo Sanjou, the US State Department's Transnational Organisation Crime Rewards Program is offering Sh100 million for information leading to his arrest.

The FBI says he was part of the group that kidnapped the 17 Christian missionaries, including 15 children, one as young as eight months.

The modus operandi of these gangs varies, but it is worth noting that they have hierarchical structures, headed by a chief, followed by second and third deputies, as well as zone cell chiefs.

Beyond that, however, it becomes difficult to identify who the others are, as they are usually difficult to identify because children are also members.

"The chief has an authoritarian role, with the power of life and death over members and the community. He decides on strategies and operations with his deputies, interacts with businessmen and politicians, speaks on behalf of the group and negotiates the purchase of weapons and ammunition," the UN said.

It is worth noting that a gang leader also serves as a judge for members and the community at large. The decisions he makes are irreversible.

The second-in-command has "an operational role, directing daily activities, collecting loot and paying salaries. He also oversees logistics (weapons maintenance, storage and deployment).

Gang members take part in operations and are mainly young people with no economic or social prospects. Children are typically used as scouts and guards, and may later participate in combat.

They keep weapons and watch over kidnapped people. They are also responsible for buying food and clothing for gang members.

The UN also says that the gangs make money through extortion. They levy taxes on roads, extort money from the transport industry, and extort money from families for access to social services such as water and electricity.

The gangs position themselves as the main interlocutors for the distribution of aid in their areas. They insist that aid be channelled through their foundations as a means of controlling the population.

"Some gangs reportedly use their foundations to extort money from some humanitarian organisations seeking access to the areas they control and to sell the aid for profit," the report said.

It also revealed that gangs in Haiti have a steady supply of firearms from the US and the Dominican Republic.

The report shows that of the 125 weapons recovered in Haiti in 2021 and traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 85 per cent were manufactured in or imported from the US.

69 per cent were pistols, 19 per cent were rifles and 10 per cent were shotguns.

In the Dominican Republic, authorities seized 33 firearms in 2021, including pistols and semi-automatic rifles.

In May 2023, a Cuban national was arrested in the Dominican Republic and extradited to the United States in connection with this trafficking case.

Ms Gaelle Castor, an opposition political leader in Haiti who is also the executive director and founder of Se Fanm, a non-profit organisation, said Kenyan police officers should be worried and that gangs there were armed with deadly weapons.

"Haitians appreciate the contribution that Kenya has made because there is a need to protect people, especially here where gang violence is getting worse. But they should know that the Haitian police have already expressed concerns that they do not have the capacity to fight the gangs," Ms Castor said.