Haiti Crisis: Can Kenyan Cops Really Conquer The Gangs?

Kenyan cops have a reputation for brutality at home, but can they deal with Haiti's gangs.
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Kenya has pledged to lend 1000 police officers lead a multinational security force in Haiti in response to a situation in which Haiti is largely ruled by armed gangs and there is no effective central government worth the name.

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

Gangs have taken control of large parts of the country, waging terror on residents and killing hundreds and there have been no elections since 2016, as the country is not stable enough.

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

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


When this was originally 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, Barbados, 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.

No-one can be deployed until the UN Security Council gives the go-ahead, but Mr Mutua said he expected the force to be in place by the beginning of next year.

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.

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”.

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.

Mr Mutua said the government had been preparing for the deployment. But he has not divulged more details about the planning, 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.

Kenya’s police officers have long been criticised for human rights abuses.Several rights organisations have expressed worries about the ability of the officers to act humanely and responsibly in Haiti.

In an open letter to the UN Security Council in August, Amnesty International said it was concerned about the plan due to the Kenyan police’s record of responding using excessive and unnecessary force.

How Kenyan police ‘hit squad’ uses Facebook to kill suspected gangsters.

The organisation said it had documented more than 30 cases of Kenyan police officers killing protesters through shootings and tear-gas suffocation during various protests this year.

Amnesty has also accused the police of beating protesters as well as unlawfully arresting and detaining them.

Kenya’s police chief Japhet Koome described the response of his officers to recent protests as “commendable”.

He denied accusations of police killings and sensationally said that opposition politicians had planted bodies hired from mortuaries at protest scenes in order to pin the deaths on his personnel.

Haiti, a former French Caribbean colony that became the world’s first black republic at the start of the 19th Century after an epoch-making 1791 slave revolt, has a history of foreign interventions.

The US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, sending in marines and military administrators.

Further US military interventions occurred in 1994 and 2004, to “defend democracy” and restore order.

The interventions made many Haitians wary of outside interference, especially involving the US.

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