US and Kenya sign defence deal ahead of possible Haiti mission

Kenyan Defence Minister Aden Duale says country ready to deploy to Haiti to help tackle gang violence.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Defence Aden Duale shake hands
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Defence Aden Duale shake hands after signing a defence cooperation agreement in Nairobi, Kenya on September 25, 2023 [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

The United States and Kenya have signed a defence agreement that will see the East African nation get resources and support for security deployments as it has volunteered to lead an international mission to violence-plagued Haiti.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Kenya’s Defence Minister Aden Duale signed the accord on Monday at a meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, guiding the countries’ defence relations for the next five years.

“Signing the framework for defence cooperation between our two countries today reinforces the importance of our strategic partnership with Kenya,” Austin said following the meeting, according to a readout by the Pentagon.

The US defence chief underscored Kenya’s role in the fight against al-Shabab, an armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda that is active in East Africa.

He also thanked the Kenyan government for volunteering to take the leadership of a proposed, multinational force to Haiti, which has been struggling to respond to months of escalating gang violence.

Gangs control most of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and Haitians face a barrage of attacks, including kidnappings for ransom and sexual violence. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.

In October of last year, Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, called on the international community to help set up a “specialised armed force” to quell the violence.

The request for an international mission to Haiti enjoyed the backing of the US and the United Nations, but a deployment has been stalled for months because no country had agreed to lead such a mission to the country.

Several rights activists also have raised questions around the prospect of foreign intervention, saying past missions have brought more harm than good, and called on countries to ensure adequate safeguards are in place.

However, in July, Kenya said it was prepared to lead a “multinational force” in Haiti – provided the mission gets a mandate from the UN Security Council – to help train and assist the Haitian police to “restore normalcy”.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the UN Security Council to approve the mission, which he said would be ready to deploy “in months”.

Blinken also said Washington would supply “robust financial and logistical assistance” to the proposed deployment.

“We urge the international community to pledge additional personnel, as well as equipment, logistics, training and funding. We cannot be successful without these contributions,” he added.

Kenya has pledged to send 1,000 security officers to Haiti to combat gang violence.

On Monday, Duale said his country was ready to deploy to Haiti and cited Kenya’s “very long history of global peacekeeping” in Kosovo, neighbouring Somalia and Congo.

Human rights activists, however, have expressed concerns over the deployment, citing a history of human rights abuses during security operations in the African nation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies