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Kenya gets green light to take on gangs in Haiti

Kenya's police, who have faced criticism at home, will be tested on unfamiliar ground in Haiti

The UN has backed Kenya’s offer to lead a multinational security force in Haiti in response to a plea from the Caribbean nation’s prime minister for help restoring order.

Haiti has suffered from gang violence for decades but the current wave of brutality escalated after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

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Gangs have taken control of large parts of the country, waging terror on residents and killing hundreds.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that a “robust use of force” is needed to disarm the gangs and restore order.

Greenlighting the deployment, the UN Security Council resolution approves the mission for a year with a review after nine months.

The new force will carry out joint security operations and will have the authority to make arrests in coordination with Haitian police, according to the resolution.

It will also aim to create conditions to hold elections. Haiti has not had an election since 2016.

Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus called the decision “a glimmer of hope for the people that have for too long been suffering.”

What has Kenya offered to do?

Kenya has said it would send 1,000 police officers to Haiti.

When this was first proposed in July, Kenyan officials said the officers would guard government buildings and infrastructure, but that plan changed after Kenya sent a fact-finding mission the following month.

The country now wants to deploy an intervention force that will neutralise the armed gangs, protect civilians and bring about peace, security and order.

Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua told the BBC that his country would also like to help Haiti rebuild vital infrastructure and establish a stable democratic government.

The Bahamas, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have said they will take part in the mission and the minister added that Spain, Senegal and Chile were also likely to deploy security personnel.

Mr Mutua said he expected the force to be in place by the beginning of next year.

What will the Kenyan police find in Haiti?

Haiti is experiencing a multi-faceted security and humanitarian crisis that Mr Guterres called “a living nightmare”.

Swathes of the mountain-cradled coastal capital Port-au-Prince – some estimates say 80% – are either controlled or regularly terrorised by heavily armed gangs.

These gangs, with names in Haitian creole such as “Kraze Barye” (Barrier-Crusher) and “Gran Grif” (Big Claw), have over the last two years been robbing, looting, extorting, kidnapping, raping and killing.

Armed with automatic weapons smuggled in mostly from the US, the gang members often out-gun the local police, sometimes burning their vehicles and stations.

They control, or regularly raid, the main routes in and out of the capital.

Similar lawlessness plagues large areas of west and central Haiti, where roving “bandits”, as locals call the gang members, invade and burn villages and towns.

The gangs have caused chaos and disrupted public services and the work of aid agencies, worsening poverty and health problems in a nation that was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

What’s in it for Kenya?

Mr Mutua has in part portrayed this as an altruistic offer.

“Haiti looked around and said: ‘Kenya, please help us’. They did not ask any other countries. We have decided to do God’s will and assist our brothers and sisters,” Kenya’s foreign minister said at a press conference.

However, Mr Mutua told the BBC that the intervention in Haiti would raise Kenya’s global profile, which could benefit the country.

Some commentators have said Kenya is doing the US’s bidding and is hoping to curry favour with the global superpower.

The US has pledged to support the mission financially to the tune of $100m (£82m) – Canada has also offered funding.

On a recent visit to Kenya, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed a five-year security agreement and also said the US was “grateful to Kenya for its leadership in tackling security challenges in the region and around the world”.

Are Kenya’s police ready for this kind of mission?

Many critics have cast doubt on the ability of Kenyan police to take on Haiti’s gangs.

They will need to come face-to-face with the armed gang members in unfamiliar terrain.

Nelson Koech, chairperson of parliament’s defence committee, told Citizen TV that Kenya would not be sending traffic officers but “special armed forces” and that they would be fully trained before being deployed.

It is not clear which units will be sent to Haiti but it could be the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU), which often responds to events like violent demonstrations and terrorist attacks.

Mr Mutua also said the government had been preparing for the deployment. He did not divulge any more details, other than saying that the authorities are currently providing French lessons to some of the officers to ease communication in Haiti.

The language barrier has raised some concerns, as in Haiti people predominantly speak French and Haitian Creole, while in Kenya, the most commonly spoken languages are English and Swahili.

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