Kenya’s ‘peace mission’ a pan-African smokescreen

Kenya has sent 1,000 troops to Haiti on a peace mission supported by the United Nation. Picture: Elmond Jjiyane/GCIS

Kenya has sent 1,000 troops to Haiti on a peace mission supported by the United Nation. Picture: Elmond Jjiyane/GCIS

Published Oct 8, 2023


Dr Sizo Nkala

In his seminal work, Leviathan, the 17th-century English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, conceptualised what he called the state of nature – a hypothetical arrangement in which people lived without a government, public laws, or sovereign authority.

Hobbes argued that the state of nature soon turns into a state of war, a war of all against all, where people live in “continuous fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

The Caribbean island nation of Haiti has turned into a real life modern-day Hobbesian nightmare. Since the assassination of the Haitian president Jovenel Moise in July 2021, the government has lost control of significant swathes of Haitian territory amid a deteriorating security situation. The country is under a reign of terror as violent gangs have taken over whole neighbourhoods leading to forced displacements, killings, rape, kidnappings, arson, and disappearance.

While the second half of 2022 saw 1,250 deaths related to gang violence, the first half of 2023 recorded 2,094 deaths and 1,014 abductions, including women and children. Latest reports indicate that the number of lives claimed by gang violence now stands at a distressing 2,400. These figures understate the extent of the crisis as many deaths go unreported. The violence is perpetrated by about 150 gangs based mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other provinces around the country. Most of the gangs work under the G-Pep Federation or its rival, the G-9 Alliance. Their fight for territorial control is the main driver of the violence. The national police force does not have the capacity to stem the violence. Haiti has a total of just over 14,000 police officers, which translates into a ratio of just about 1.2 police officers per 1,000 citizens, which is far from adequate.

Scores of police officers have been killed and injured by the heavily armed gangs. Realising they are no match for the well-armed gangs, more police officers have retired or abandoned their posts, thus further eroding the capacity of the police force. Without police protection citizens have taken matters into their own hands by forming vigilante groups to confront gang members. The vigilante organisation known as Bwa Kwale has mobilised members across the country and has reportedly lynched more than 300 suspected gang members. The gangs have responded by forming their own movement – Zam Pale – which has led to a cycle of extreme violence that may escalate if not addressed.

Having failed to control the violence, the Haitian leaders requested the deployment of international support for its police, a request that was seconded by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. As a result, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution sponsored by the US and Ecuador to deploy a Kenya-led multinational force to combat the prevalence of violent gangs in Haiti. The resolution was supported by 13 members of the UN Security Council. China and Russia, two of the five permanent members, decided to abstain citing doubts over the efficacy of sending a force to Haiti without a legitimate and functional government.

Kenya, which pledged to send 1,000 of its police personnel, will be joined by the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda who have also pledged to send undisclosed numbers of their police. According to the resolution, the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission will be deployed for a year with $200 million in funding from the US. The MSS will work hand in hand with the Haitian police in gathering intelligence on the gang networks and how they operate, as well as guarding sensitive areas like ports.

What is perhaps surprising in all this is Kenya’s decision to lead the MSS. It is not exactly obvious how gang violence in one of the Caribbean’s poorest countries affects Kenya. In explaining Kenya’s decision, the country’s foreign minister at the time the decision was made, Alfred Mutua, was quoted as saying: “Kenya stands with persons of African descent across the world, including those in the Caribbean, and aligns with the African Union’s diaspora policy and our own commitment to pan-Africanism, and in this case to ‘reclaiming of the Atlantic crossing’.”

But why would Kenya go through the trouble of putting out fires in a country on the other side of the Atlantic to demonstrate its pan-African credentials? Its not like there is a shortage of trouble spots in its own neighbourhood. The answer is that Kenya’s mission to Haiti has nothing to do with pan-Africanism. It is a purely strategic decision in the context of its bilateral relationship with the US.

Just days before the approval of the mission to Haiti, Kenya and the US entered into a five-year defence agreement that will facilitate military technology transfers and joint counter-terrorism and counter-extreme violence initiatives and enhance Kenya’s military capabilities. This is important as Kenya continues to fight the terrorist outfit Al Shabab, which is one of Kenya’s biggest security threats. As such, Kenya’s acceptance of the US request to contribute personnel to the Haiti intervention should be seen as a strategic calculation meant to enhance its own interests.

*Dr Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL