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Kenya and Haiti Scramble to Keep Kenyan Police Intervention Plan Alive

Since the Jan. 26 ruling by Kenya’s High Court, which prohibited on constitutional grounds the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police to Haiti to combat violent gangs, Kenyan President William Ruto and Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry have been trying to find a way around the ruling so the deployment can proceed. According to comments Ruto made to Reuters, the two are working on a bilateral “reciprocal” agreement which Ruto said would allow him to authorize the police deployment very quickly as soon as the agreement is finalized.

There is nothing simple about the reciprocal agreement, however. According to The New Humanitarian on Feb. 2, Haiti, as the reciprocating country, must demonstrate that its laws on police service are similar to Kenya’s on such matters as the type of mandate the police have, how they are commanded and how their accountability is assessed. Dr. Ekuru Aukot, the main challenger in Kenya’s High Court against the police deployment, raised the obvious point that Ariel Henry is not a legitimately elected head of government, nor does Haiti have a parliament or elected officials. So where is the reciprocal law going to come from? Other legal experts have suggested it would be possible to produce a simplified agreement not requiring parliamentary approval.

The lack of a firm commitment to the $600 million annual funding which Kenya said it needs for the mission could make this discussion moot. The Biden administration originally pledged $100 million, and the Pentagon another $100 million “in kind”—equipment, logistics, etc. But other “partners,” mostly Caribbean and African countries, haven’t contributed anything, and Kenyan officials have made clear that unless this “resource gap” is closed, the mission won’t move. In the U.S. Congress, Republican Senators and Congressmen are reluctant to approve funding until they get more information about the mission, and want to know whether Biden has a “Plan B” should the Kenyan option fall through. There is considerable skepticism about what the mission is supposed to accomplish given the severity of Haiti’s crisis.

On the ground in Haiti, the security situation has worsened dramatically since Ariel Henry first proposed this mission in September 2022. In 2023, almost 5,000 people were killed due to gang violence, a 50% increase over 2022; kidnappings totaled 2,490, up from 1,359 in 2022. Gangs control 90% of Port-au-Prince and much of the Artibonite department, Haiti’s “breadbasket” whose food-producing ability has been greatly reduced by gang activity. As of January this year, nearly 314,000 people have been displaced, half of them children.

Protests erupted in the capital and other departments last week, directed at Henry’s failure to protect citizens from violence, with proposals to create a single force made up of the police and the army to take on the gangs. More protests are planned Feb. 5-7, culminating on Feb. 7, the day on which Haitian Presidents have traditionally taken office. The majority of the population considers Henry to be illegitimate, supported in power only by the U.S. and other Western powers, and this week’s protests are demanding his immediate resignation. Activists in Port-au-Prince say the protests will continue through mid-February.