After long wait, Kenyan police begin security mission in Haiti

Kenyan police arrived in violence-ravaged Haiti on Tuesday on a long-awaited mission to help wrest the Caribbean nation from powerful gangs, just as deadly turmoil gripped Nairobi during mass protests.

Sporting camouflage uniforms, helmets and rifles, the first of the 400 officers descended from a Kenya Airways plane on the tarmac in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

A total of some 2,500 personnel are expected, led by Kenya with contributions from a number of countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, on a mission blessed but not managed by the United Nations.

US President Joe Biden, who has promised generous funding for the mission but ruled out sending American troops, hailed the arrival of the Kenyans as “beginning an effort that will bring much needed relief to Haitians.”

“The people of Haiti deserve to feel safe in their homes, build better lives for their families and enjoy democratic freedoms,” Biden said in a statement.

Kenyan President William Ruto had ceremonially seen the police off Monday in Nairobi, in what he described as a “historic” mission of solidarity.

But Kenya itself became engulfed in violence a day afterward, with protesters breaching parliament and a fire erupting at the governor’s office.

Renewing the questions raised by rights groups on how Kenyan forces will handle Haiti’s unrest, NGOs said that police fired live rounds in Nairobi, leaving at least five dead and dozens wounded.

The violence quickly escalated from protests, mostly led by young people, triggered by tax hikes proposed by the cash-strapped government.

Ruto had gone ahead with the Haiti mission despite a court case from a small opposition party which accused him of doing the bidding of the United States.

The multinational force, approved last year by the UN Security Council, had already been on hold for months after a Kenyan court asked the government to secure a bilateral government with Haiti.

– Hopes for stability –

Garry Conille, the acting prime minister in a new Haitian transitional government, hailed the deployment of the Kenyan force.

“I salute the determination of the Haitian people to stand with Haiti in its fight against the insecurity that has gnawed at society,” he wrote Monday on X.

“The Haitian government and people hope that this multinational mission is the final one that helps bring stability,” he said, and “a return to effective democracy.”

The United States had been eagerly seeking a country to lead the mission and is providing some $360 million in funding and equipment.

But Biden has rejected sending US troops to Haiti, which has a long history of US intervention.

Biden ended America’s longest war in Afghanistan and is seeking for reelection boasting that, for the first time in more than two decades, US troops are not in combat.

The US president welcomed Ruto for a rare state visit to Washington last month in which he hailed Kenya as a key US partner on democracy and security, praising its efforts in Haiti and also other hotspots including neighboring Somalia.

Other countries that have expressed willingness to join the mission include Benin, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados and Chad.

Haiti has long been rocked by gang violence but conditions sharply worsened at the end of February when armed groups launched coordinated attacks in Port-au-Prince, saying they wanted to overthrow then-prime minister Ariel Henry.

Henry announced in early March that he would step down and hand over executive power to a transitional council, which named Conille as the country’s interim prime minister on May 29.

The violence in Port-au-Prince has affected food security and humanitarian aid access, with much of the city in the hands of gangs accused of abuses including murder, rape, looting and kidnappings.