A Kenyan-led security mission finally starts to arrive in Haiti

Author: Editors Desk Source: The Economist
July 4, 2024 at 05:59
Photograph: Getty Images
Photograph: Getty Images

But can it make a difference?

Clichéd wisdom suggests that those who wait are rewarded for doing so. Haiti’s 12m people are about to find out whether this applies to them. The first contingent of an international police mission tasked with bringing stability to the gang-racked country landed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on June 25th. Their mission begins eight months after the un authorised the force, 20 months after Haiti’s government requested it.

The arrival of the Multinational Security Support Mission (mss), led by Kenya, had been trailed for weeks. Its expansion will be gradual: some 400 police officers disembarked from a Kenya Airways plane wearing fatigues and carrying weapons. They expect to be joined by police from another eight countries, bringing the force’s number to 2,500.Garry Conille, Haiti’s prime minister, calls the mss’s arrival a “unique opportunity” for the country. But Haiti is in different circumstances today from those in which the mission was conceived. Ariel Henry, then Haiti’s acting prime minister, asked for the intervention in October 2022; gang violence had been growing since the murder of then-president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. But in February this year the gangs went on a rampage, taking over critical infrastructure, including ports and prisons. Mr Henry was pressed into standing down to make way for a transitional government.

Omens were bad as the Kenyan force landed. Their colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, were firing tear gas and bullets at protesters demonstrating against proposed tax rises. They killed at least five people. The extent to which the Kenyan police will respect human rights matters: the last international intervention in Haiti, run by the un, was undermined by allegations of crimes, including rapes and kidnappings, committed by troops who had supposedly come to help.

Kenyan officials think the mission will cost $600m. The United States alone has pledged $360m, and is on the verge of handing over $110m of it. More will be needed. Moreover, 2,500 police may be too few to deal with the gangs. The United States has been the driving force behind the Kenyan-led mission, and has built its accommodation and flown in supplies, but has said it will not contribute officers.

It is unclear how the mission will go about stabilising Haiti. The international police are expected to work behind the scenes with the Haitian police, and perhaps to help guard key places such as the airport, ports and the presidential palace. The United States says the aim is to secure the country so that elections can be held by February 2026. No one doubts that Haiti needs its officials to be elected, but the timeframe is ambitious.

Pessimists say the mss is replaying a tired and failed formula. Optimists, foremost the United States, say this time is different, because the process of re-establishing legitimate, democratic leadership is already under way. A transitional council, which will run the country until the elections, appointed Mr Conille as prime minister on June 11th. Days later the council installed a new police chief. Jimmy Chérizier, a prominent gang leader better known as Barbeque, has adopted a more conciliatory tone since the Kenyans’ arrival.

The force won’t “magically resolve” Haiti’s problems, says Jake Johnston of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. The months of wrangling required to create the transitional institutions demonstrated the messiness of Haitian politics, which may yet scupper the election plans. Deep political and economic reforms are required to tackle the root causes of violence. If that ever happens, a good thing will truly have come to Haitians after years of waiting. 

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This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print edition under the headline “Same old story?”


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