Kenyan police to depart for contentious peacekeeping effort in Haiti

Kenyan President William Ruto holds ceremonial goodbye for 400 troops set to depart on UN-backed mission.

Pedestrians was past a soldier guarding the area of the international airport in Port-au-Prince,
Pedestrians walk past a soldier guarding the area of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 4, 2024 [File: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo]

A contingent of Kenyan police is set to depart for a controversial mission in Haiti to combat the influence of powerful criminal gangs that have brought turmoil and violence to the Caribbean nation.

Kenyan President William Ruto held a ceremony on Monday, wishing luck to 400 officers who will arrive in Haiti later this week in a United Nations-backed initiative, the first contingent out of 1,000 police that Kenya expects to send.

“This mission is one of the most urgent, important and historic in the history of global solidarity,” Ruto told the officers in quotes shared by his office.

“It is a mission to affirm the universal values of the community of nations, a mission to take a stand for humanity.”

Ruto and the United States have welcomed the effort after months of debate over how to address spiralling violence in Haiti, where gangs have expanded their influence, gained control over large swathes of territory and brought violence and instability to the lives of civilians.

“We hope to see further measurable improvements in security, particularly with respect to access to humanitarian aid and core economic activity,” US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday.

Countries including the US and Canada have called for an international police mission, but have been hesitant to commit their own troops to a role in such an effort. A UN official said in March that at least 5,000 foreign police officers would be needed to help tackle gang violence in Haiti, far more than the total of 1,000 Kenyan police set to be deployed.

The administration of US President Joe Biden pledged $300m in support during a recent visit by Ruto to the US, but said that the involvement of US troops could create “all kinds of questions that can easily be misrepresented”.

There has been a long record of disastrous foreign interventions in Haiti, the first country in the world to successfully win independence through a slave rebellion in 1804, fuelling concerns that the initiative could backfire or fuel further instability.

The US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, overseeing a system of forced labour and widespread rights abuses.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies