Kenya’s parliament has approved a controversial plan by the government to deploy about 1,000 police officers to Haiti to help stop gang violence, but the matter is still subject to a court review of the legality of the plan.
Opposition lawmakers condemned the vote, but the ruling party used its majority to back the government following a fiery debate.
Haiti had appealed for international help to tackle growing lawlessness.
Kenya’s offer won the UN Security Council’s approval last month, but the plan has been opposed by the main opposition party.
About 300 gangs are active across Haiti and 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, is under gang control.
These groups have taken increasing control of the city since the assassination of the country’s president in 2021 threw Haiti into a political crisis.
At Thursday’s vote in Kenya’s parliament, lawmakers supporting the motion said the country was part of the global community and could not ignore the appeals for help from other countries.
They also argued that the East African nation has a history of peacekeeping missions such as in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.
Parliament approved the plan in a voice vote moments before the High Court was due to begin hearing the case on the planned deployment.
A small opposition party, Thirdway Alliance, has led the legal challenge, saying the plan was unconstitutional because only the military could be deployed abroad.
The government has rejected the argument, and is defending the case.
Thirdway Alliance’s legal representative, Charles Midega, told the BBC that it was a “brazen” act by parliament to discuss the deployment despite the court order.
In parliament, opposition lawmakers argued that a vote could not be held on a matter before the courts.
But governing party lawmakers said there were no rules barring parliament from debating the issue, for as long as it did go into the substance of the case.
Kenya’s main opposition leader, Raila Odinga, has previously condemned the proposed deployment.
“Before you even come to Africa, Haiti is at the doorstep of the United States which is the most powerful nation in the world. What is it that is so unique about Kenya that it is being chosen to lead the multinational force in Haiti?” he told local TV last month.
But Kenya’s President William Ruto has defended the plan, saying that “Africa is keen to contribute to the freedom and security of Haiti”.
The US has pledged to support the mission financially to the tune of $100m (£82m) – Canada has also offered funding.
On a visit to Kenya in September, 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”.
Some Kenyans say Mr Ruto and his government should prioritise addressing security challenges at home.
Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have in recent months expressed concerns over the Kenyan police’s record of using excessive and unnecessary force.
There has also been notable criticism of the planned deployment from the man seen as the father of Kenyan literature – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o – who last month said tearfully: “If you know the history of Haiti, any black person would not do that.”
Haiti became the world’s first black-led republic in 1804, after Gen Toussaint Louverture led enslaved people in an uprising.
This incensed its colonial master France, which derived a large chunk of its income from Haiti’s plantations, and it responded by forcing Haiti to pay inflated reparations to enslavers over 122 years..
The US 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.