Kenyan law students are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting Kenya. Aynsley Genga is JURIST’s Senior Correspondent in Kenya, and Griffins Ogada is a Staff Correspondent. Both of them are students at the University of Nairobi School of Law. They file this dispatch from Nairobi.
Haiti is a country rich in natural resources and arable land. It was once one of the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean but is now one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. This is mainly due to the interference of foreign powers, domestic political malfeasance, natural disasters, social instability, and epidemics.
Political instability in the nation has only worsened since President Jovenel Moise was assassinated two years ago. The country is currently run by 200 gangs and incidents of violence and daily kidnappings are a common occurrence. The situation is truly dire and it is against this backdrop that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has repeatedly requested international assistance over the past year. His prayers were finally heard in July when the president of Kenya, William Ruto, offered to send 1000 Kenyan police officers to help fight the gangs, a move that was welcomed by the UN. In August, the Kenyan government sent a security team to assess the situation in Haiti; they later briefed President Ruto on their findings.
Despite Ruto’s offer being readily accepted by UN, a good number of Kenyans have spoken up against the decision. The move has ignited a spectrum of reactions, revealing a nuanced perspective on the matter. Chief among the concerns voiced by citizens are constitutional issues, questions of resource allocation, and the perceived necessity of these officers within Kenya’s borders. Many Kenyans are also questioning why nations such as the United States, which are closer to the scene and have better militaries than Kenya, have refused to send in their own troops. Speculations have been made online that there’s a money deal involved which is why the government is so willing to send its soldiers to a nation that even countries with better military facilities are reluctant to assist. There are also those who are questioning how the officers will actually help to mitigate the situation, especially as most do not even speak the native Haiti language.
Opposition legislators have adamantly rejected the proposed deployment, asserting that it violates the country’s constitution. Their skepticism extends to questioning the logic behind sending a significant contingent of police officers to Haiti when domestic security threats persist, demanding attention and resources from Kenya’s own law enforcement. Notably, opposition lawmaker Rozzah Buyu as well as Dr. Ekuru Aukot have openly challenged the rationale behind deploying Kenyan soldiers to go to Haiti. In fact, Dr. Ekuru Aukot has been very vocal about how the deployment is a “suicide mission”. He has also questioned why the American government is willing to fund Kenya in support of the mission but is unwilling to deploy its own troops.
Even Amnesty International Kenya has expressed its doubts about the deployment of Kenyan police officers in Haiti. Their doubts stem from how the Kenyan police handled the nationwide demonstrations in Kenya this year. Police brutality was part and parcel of anti-government demonstrations which left 100s injured and approximately 50 people dead. Amnesty International has therefore urged the Kenyan police officers to ensure they adhere to UN human rights standards as well as ensure that they engage in meaningful consultations with Haitian civil society and mass media before the deployment of stabilisation support.
“Clear, mandatory, and enforceable parameters must detail the operational and oversight measures preventing the unlawful use of force, negligence causing harm to local populations and other abuses before deployment. This must include robust measures to protect individuals against sexual exploitation and abuse, ensuring accessible and effective remedies for victims. The Mission must adhere to UN human rights due diligence policies to assess and address potential human rights impacts”, says Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton.
Last month the matter landed before the Kenyan High Court, which on October 9 suspended the proposed deployment on the reasoning that the Constitution of Kenya (CoK) did not provide for police men to deployed outside of the country; only the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) can be deployed outside the country. This is in accordance with article 241 of the CoK, which states that the KDF shall assist and cooperate with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster, and report to the National Assembly whenever deployed in such circumstances. However, despite the deployment being suspended, parliament went ahead and approved the deployment on November 16, 2023 just a few hours before the High Court extended its orders blocking the deployment of officers until January 26, 2024. The Government’s decision to disregard the court’s first orders suspending the deployment of the police officers has led to them being criticized for their outright disregard for the rule of law. This in turn has added a layer of complexity to the entire situation.
Even though there have been many who have been against the move, there are still those in Kenya who support the Government’s plan. The supporters of the motion contend that Kenya carries a moral obligation and duty to assist Haiti in addressing its security challenges. This perspective emphasizes global solidarity and a cooperative approach to tackling shared issues. Proponents of the deployment argue that contributing to international peacekeeping efforts aligns with Kenya’s role as a responsible member of the global community.
The debates and concerns surrounding this deployment underscore the complex considerations and divergent viewpoints within Kenyan society. The issue here transcends mere geopolitical maneuvers; it goes to the heart of constitutional adherence, resource prioritization, and Kenya’s global role. As the debate continues, it remains evident that the reactions from the masses reflect a society grappling with the challenges of balancing national priorities with international responsibilities.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Dispatches are solely those of our correspondents in the field and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.