Haitians frustrated by lack of action by Kenya-led mission

Haitians frustrated by lack of action by Kenya-led mission

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Irvika François must take a number of precautions in this gang-ridden city. The Haitian educator and feminist has relocated with her family and never strays more than a mile from home.

Several hundred Kenyan police officers have been sent to the Caribbean state. They are the first members of a United Nations-backed security mission to push back the heavily armed paramilitaries who control 80 percent of the capital, enable new elections and give Haitians like François a chance to breathe.

The Kenyans, who are better armed and equipped than the Haitian police, have joined their hosts in patrolling the streets. The gangs who had threatened to resist the operation seem unfazed. They continue to set fire to houses, attack police stations and kill with impunity.

“I don’t feel the impact of the Kenyans’ presence,” said François, whose cousin was kidnapped by a gang last year. “Nothing has changed in my life and I no longer trust my safety. … I don’t understand why the Kenyans are here.”

It has been nearly two years since former Prime Minister Ariel Henry first called for an international security force to restore stability to this beleaguered Caribbean country. During the long wait, gangs tightened their grip on the capital, storming prisons, closing seaports, occupying fuel terminals and the international airport.

Now, less than three weeks after the first officers arrived, frustration is growing. Haitians say the operation has had no discernible impact on security. Police say they have not been included in a plan to restore order.

“Haitians have high expectations of the foreign force,” says Diego Da Rin, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. “They say if the mission does not soon begin operations that lead to tangible changes and victories against the gangs, they may begin to resent its presence.”


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Officials from Haiti, Kenya and the United States – which does not want to send troops but is by far the mission’s largest donor – respond that the mission is proceeding as planned.

Normil Rameau, the new chief of Haiti’s national police, told reporters this week that he had met several times with his Kenyan counterparts for “evaluation and planning purposes.”

“There is no set day or time for the operations,” Rameau said. “The population could wake up one day and find that operations have taken place and the bandits have been stopped or neutralized. For strategic reasons, we cannot reveal how that will happen.”

A Kenyan police official said the force was waiting for more equipment to arrive before it could begin operations, but he did not know when that would be.

“We are ready,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We are better trained than the gangs. We have the capacity to kick them out. We will attack the gangs where they hide.”

Between January and May, gangs in Haiti killed at least 3,250 people, the UN office here reported, up more than 30 percent from the previous five months. UN officials say gangs are reportedly paying people to stay in their communities so they can serve as human shields during police operations.

They say they have received reports of gangs attempting to recruit children before the foreigners arrived, allegedly “to take advantage of possible incidents involving missionary personnel against children and thus undermine the presence of such personnel in Haiti.”

Haiti has a long and difficult history of international intervention. The United States invaded the country in 1915 and occupied it for 19 years, establishing a system of forced labor, training the gendarmerie, which was notorious for its abuses, and executing dissidents.

Most recently, a UN peacekeeping force that served from 2004 to 2017 was marred by allegations of abuse. It was blamed for a cholera outbreak that killed more than 10,000 people. Haitians said the troops did little to maintain security, calling them “tourists.”

The United States supported Henry’s request for international assistance in October 2022, but struggled to find a country to lead the mission. The UN Security Council gave the mission the green light last October, but planning, staffing and funding have been slow.

The mission could grow to around 2,500 members. Several countries from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia have pledged personnel, but it is unclear when they will send them to Haiti.

Kenyan officials have said the mission needs about $600 million, but international donors have so far contributed only $21 million. The UN office in Kenya said last month that the mission could not operate for 12 months without additional money.

Haitian police will conduct anti-gang operations with the assistance of mission personnel, officials said, but several Haitian police officers said they were still confused about how that would work.

The officers, who spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the Kenyans were better armed and received far higher salaries, while the Haitians were expected to bear the majority of the risk.

“We will be on the front line, but with what weapons?” asked a Haitian policeman. “Who will give the orders? How can we defend ourselves? We don’t know anything.”

“Kenyans should not be patrolling the streets,” said another. “They should be attacking the gangs. They have the resources we lack, including firepower.”

Stanley Julien is one of several hundred thousand people who have fled their homes to escape the violence. He used to sell drinks near Haiti’s national prison, but now lives in a school. He hopes the police mission will “bring security and order.”

“I can’t say much about the Kenyans yet,” he said. “They haven’t taken any bold actions yet. The armed groups think it’s just a bluff.”

Meïka Decime is studying economics at the University of Port-au-Prince and runs a small shop in the capital that sells cocktails. But the security crisis is making deliveries to many parts of the city difficult, she says, and sales have fallen by 40 percent since December. Many of her teachers have now fled and their classes have been canceled.

She said she was reluctant to judge the international force, but was giving it “space and time” to do its job. She hoped it would provide long-term stability.

“I love my country and don’t want to leave,” said Decime. “I can’t imagine spending my life outside of Haiti.”