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Kenyan intervention in Haiti? More work needed

File photo: Sir Ronald Saunders.

By Sir Ronald Sanders

No one should yet be pouring champagne to celebrate the announcement by the U.S. government that Kenya has agreed to lead a multinational police force to help subdue gangs and improve security in Haiti. This announcement is rightly far from a done deal.

The U.S. exerted a great deal of diplomatic effort in trying to persuade many countries to lead a multinational force into Haiti – a principal request of Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister, Dr. Ariel Henry. Among the countries that declined was Canada, which opted to provide direct support to Haitian forces.

Many nations are cautious about leading or even participating in such a force in Haiti, not least because they recognize that, within Haiti, while the people want an end to the kidnappings, violence, rapes, and other atrocities associated with the rise of gangs, a significant number are concerned about further foreign intervention in their country.

These nations also know that the underlying reasons for Haiti’s condition are the economic actions by France which crippled the country’s economic prospects for over a century; a U.S. invasion and its economic consequences; the convenient maintaining by foreign governments of avaricious Haitian leaders; and the general impoverishment of the country.

Haitian civil society groups have widely opposed the deployment of any foreign force, referencing bitter experiences with previous intervention and fears that intervening forces would be propping-up the present unelected regime which they regard as partially responsible for the country’s crises.

Further, all governments are keenly aware that a multinational force in Haiti’s present circumstances would not be a traditional United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping force. What Dr. Henry has requested is a force that will help the Haitian police confront and conquer the more than 60 gangs that now dominate the safety and security space in Haiti, leading to potential bloodshed.

For its part, the Kenyan government has said that it is ready to deploy 1,000 police officers to help train and assist Haiti’s police to “restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations”. The form of assistance was not clarified, and the government also made it clear that its “proposed deployment will crystallize” once it gets a mandate from the U.N. Security Council “and other Kenyan constitutional processes are undertaken”.

The Kenyan need for a U.N. Security mandate explains why the U.S., which is the Chair of the Security Council for the month of August, has announced that it will propose a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing Kenya to lead a multinational police into Haiti. Getting a Security Council mandate will not be easy. Already the U.S. has been unable to obtain endorsement of the work plan for its Chairmanship because of Russia’s objections primarily due to the inclusion of Ukraine.

Interestingly, while U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, has welcomed Kenya’s announcement, he has described it as “a non-U.N. multinational operation in Haiti”. Where such a development places Kenya’s offer is left to be seen, particularly as the government has publicly stated that it wants “a mandate from the U.N. Security Council”.

What is troubling about this development is that it is not awaiting the outcome of several initiatives seeking “a Haitian led solution”. Among these initiatives is the CARICOM Eminent Persons Group of three former Caribbean Prime Ministers, working to bridge division among stakeholders in Haiti and to arrive at an agreed plan to take the country forward. Their work is not concluded, nor have they pronounced on whether their mission has any chance of success.

Another initiative was the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous Resolution on July 14, 2023, asking the Secretary General to produce options to help combat Haiti’s armed gangs. The time for the submission of the Secretary General’s report has not yet elapsed.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, disclosed that the U.S. will be seeking Security Council endorsement for Kenya to lead a multinational force into Haiti, saying, “This is not a traditional peacekeeping force, this is not a traditional security situation […] We have gangs that have overtaken the country, … that are terrorizing civilians every single day.” She admitted that the situation is “unusual”.

What is being proposed is not a traditional U.N. peacekeeping force, but a military exercise designed to eliminate heavily armed gangs, which were created by elements of the political and business classes of Haiti, and which are now out of their control.

While no one would disagree with the U.S. that Haiti desperately needs stabilization, not everyone will be convinced that a foreign multinational force, especially one that is not fully endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, is the answer.

Equally concerning is that any intervention in Haiti should be at the expressed wish of the majority of stakeholders in Haiti, including political parties, civil rights groups, the business community, and the influential Haitian diaspora.

Foreign intervention in Haiti is unlikely to secure the desired broad consensus among Haitians, unless the terms are agreed by them, including oversight, agreement on its purpose, and the expiry of its stay.

Moreover, the essential question of who is in charge of the country while it endures these events still remains. Will it continue to be an unelected group, or a transitional government comprised of representatives of political parties, civil society, the business community, and qualified Haitians in the diaspora?

Achieving a Haitian consensus on a multinational force and the terms and objectives of its operations should be the first effort on which energies should be exerted.

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own. Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com)