Kenya’s Intervention in Haiti: A Cautionary Tale for Tanzania’s Foreign Engagements

Kenya’s Intervention in Haiti

A Kenyan riot policeman kicks a protester after he fell running from them during a protest in May. Three officers have been arrested after the apparent extrajudicial killing of three men who went missing on 23 June. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

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As nations across the globe grapple with the multifaceted challenges of peacekeeping and international intervention, Kenya’s recent announcement to lead a multinational force in Haiti has captured regional and international attention. The move, aimed at addressing Haiti’s escalating crisis marked by insecurity, gang violence, and a humanitarian emergency, is fraught with complexities and risks that resonate far beyond Haiti’s borders.

Kenya’s decision carries particular significance for Tanzania, a nation with a history of engagement in international peacekeeping missions. While Tanzania has not been directly involved in this Haitian initiative, the unfolding situation offers a crucial moment for reflection, analysis, and caution. With shared cultural ties and a mutual commitment to regional stability, Kenya has embarked on a path that could be tempting for some within Tanzania to emulate.

However, the myriad challenges that await Kenya in Haiti, ranging from cultural and linguistic barriers to security threats, political sensitivities, and the specter of unintended consequences, serve as stark reminders of the risks involved in such engagements.

The situation calls for a nuanced understanding of Haiti’s historical precedents, the potential pitfalls of foreign interventions, and a careful consideration of what lessons Tanzania can draw from Kenya’s move. As we delve into this complex issue, the overarching question that emerges is how Tanzania can balance its international commitments with a keen awareness of potential risks, historical insights, and its unique national interests.

In a world where international engagements can have far-reaching implications, the insights gained from Kenya’s decision to intervene in Haiti may well shape Tanzania’s approach to foreign deployments in the years to come.

What you need to know about Kenya’s Intervention in Haiti

Last year, Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who assumed the post following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, called on the international community to set up a “specialised armed force” in Haiti. Several nations supported the idea, but none volunteered to lead the intervention until Kenya’s recent announcement.

On Saturday, Alfred Mutua, the Kenyan Foreign Minister, announced that Kenya is prepared to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti. These officers will assist in training Haiti’s police force and will help “restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations.” In a social media post, Mutua stated that Kenya’s “proposed deployment will become concrete” after receiving approval from the UN Security Council and once “other Kenyan constitutional processes are completed.”

Furthermore, the minister revealed that a team of Kenyan police would soon carry out an “assessment mission” in Haiti. This mission’s aim is to “determine and shape the mandate and operational requirements” for the upcoming mission to the Caribbean nation.

Key Developments:

  • Kenyan Proposal: Kenya has pledged to deploy 1,000 police officers to assist Haiti’s police force.
  • Reception by Haiti: Haitian authorities have appreciated Kenya’s gesture as an expression of African solidarity.
  • International Support: The United Nations and Canada have welcomed Kenya’s offer supporting a non-UN international operation.
  • Civil Society Opposition: Haitian civil society has expressed concerns, referring to historical issues with foreign interventions and potential support for corrupt officials.
  • Awaiting UN Security Council Resolution: The timeline for US and Ecuador to introduce the UN Security Council resolution authorizing Kenya’s mission remains uncertain, as do potential participating nations.

Challenges of Kenya’s Intervention in Haiti.

Now that you’ve all caught up on what’s happening and the historical background, let’s return to Kenya’s proposal. Kenya’s offer to deploy 1,000 police officers to assist in Haiti represents a significant and well-intentioned commitment to addressing Haiti’s ongoing challenges. However, several potential obstacles and challenges may emerge for the Kenyan police operating in this complex environment:

  1. Different Legal and Police Frameworks: Haiti’s legal and policing systems will differ from those in Kenya. The Kenyan police may need to adapt to a new set of laws, regulations, and protocols, and there could be compatibility issues between the two systems.
  2. Security Threats from Gangs and Criminal Organizations: Haiti’s ongoing crisis is characterized by the strong presence of heavily-armed gangs. Confronting these criminal elements may expose Kenyan police officers to risks and potentially violent engagements. As of June 30, 2023, UN Peacekeeping Report shows that Tanzania lost 64 peacekeeping officers, while Kenya lost 68 officers in various missions. Their sacrifices highlight the challenges and dedication of peacekeepers worldwide.
  3. Political Sensitivities and Local Opposition: As mentioned in the previous analysis, Haitian civil society groups have expressed opposition to foreign intervention. Winning local support and trust could prove challenging, particularly if there are perceptions of collusion with corrupt officials or failure to align with the interests of the Haitian people. Daniel Larison, a columnist at Responsible Statecraft, contributing editor at, and a former senior editor at The American Conservative magazine, wrote an elaborate article that “The last thing Haiti needs is a foreign military intervention,” citing that as conditions spiral out of control, there, the UN wants to send ‘peacekeepers.’ But as we’ve seen in the past, this could be a disaster.
  4. Accountability and Human Rights Compliance: The Kenyan police force has a concerning history and reputation for brutality and unaccountability. Ensuring that Kenyan police operate within the bounds of international human rights law will be crucial. This will necessitate careful monitoring, training, and accountability measures to avoid potential misconduct allegations or human rights abuses. For more on this; read the last section of this article, The Shadows of Police Brutality in Kenya.
  5. Exit Strategy and Long-term Commitment: Developing a clear and sustainable exit strategy may pose a challenge. Ensuring that interventions have lasting positive effects requires a long-term commitment that might be at odds with domestic pressures or other international obligations.
  6. Cultural and Linguistic Barriers: Haiti’s primary languages are French and Haitian Creole, which may not be widely spoken among Kenyan police officers. Navigating these linguistic differences could hinder communication and building trust with the local population.
  7. Logistical Challenges: The need to coordinate with Haitian authorities, other international forces, and local organizations can create logistical complexities. There may be obstacles related to equipment, accommodation, transportation, and overall operational management.
  8. Health and Safety Concerns: Haiti has faced significant public health challenges, including outbreaks of diseases like cholera. Ensuring the health and safety of Kenyan police officers will require careful consideration and coordination with health authorities.
  9. Psychological Strains: Operating in an environment characterized by violence, poverty, and humanitarian crisis may psychologically impact Kenyan police officers. Adequate support and counseling would be essential for maintaining mental well-being. A good example is an article by Kenyan Digital News outlet Tuko that reported that “Anti-Riot Police Reportedly Tired, Decry Shortage of Teargas Ahead of Protests.”
  10. Economic Considerations: Finally, the cost of deployment, including pay, equipment, insurance, and other logistical expenses, may pose financial challenges. Balancing these costs with the expected benefits and domestic budgetary considerations may require careful planning and negotiation with international partners.

Lessons and Warnings for Tanzania

Tanzania, like Kenya, has a history of sending forces abroad and playing an active role in international peacekeeping missions. The country’s contributions to various African Union and United Nations missions demonstrate a commitment to regional stability and international solidarity. However, Tanzania’s involvement in foreign interventions comes with its complexities and potential risks, and the recent decision by its northern neighbor, Kenya, to lead a multinational force in Haiti should be observed with caution.

Kenya’s Intervention in Haiti by pledging to send police officers to Haiti, although well-intentioned, is fraught with numerous challenges, as previously outlined. The undertaking is multifaceted and demanding, from cultural and linguistic barriers to security threats, political sensitivities, logistical complexities, and more.

Tanzania’s experience in foreign deployments might tempt some to consider joining such an engagement. However, careful analysis of the potential benefits and the myriad challenges Kenya faces in this context may serve as a warning. Just as Haiti’s historical precedents have shown, unintended consequences such as public backlash, disease spread, allegations of misconduct, and significant reputational risks must be carefully weighed.

The lessons from Haiti and the potential challenges facing Kenya underscore the importance of a meticulous assessment of the local context, historical sensitivities, and broader geopolitical considerations. For Tanzania, these insights should reinforce the need for prudence and circumspection in contemplating similar engagements.

Tanzania should recognize that each situation demands unique analysis, planning, and a keen understanding of potential outcomes in the intricate landscape of international interventions. While expressing African solidarity is commendable, it must be balanced with a sober evaluation of potential risks and the capacity to manage them.

The situation in Haiti, and Kenya’s response to it, offers valuable lessons that can guide Tanzania in its future international commitments. Rather than being swayed by the actions of its northern neighbor, Tanzania would do well to pursue a path that considers its national interests, regional stability, and the complex realities of foreign intervention. This approach will better align with Tanzania’s historical stance and ongoing commitment to thoughtful, responsible engagement on the international stage.

Read Tanzania’s Foreign Policy Acts on Navigating Geo-Political Dynamics

The Shadows of Police Brutality in Kenya

As Kenya leads an international mission to address the crisis in Haiti, it’s worth examining an issue closer to home that raises questions about the suitability and effectiveness of its forces abroad. The Kenyan police force has a concerning history and reputation for brutality and unaccountability.

Published reports such as “Bold Moves Needed to End the Culture of Police Violence” by Sarah Nyakio and extensive research into policing in Nairobi have shown a systemic pattern of violence and mistrust within the force. The history of Kenyan policing, tracing back to its early colonial conquest and retaining much of its oppressive nature after independence, casts a shadow over its current practice.

The public opinion survey from December 2018 revealed that most Kenyans view unlawful police killings and harassment as the most significant risk to their lives. Cases like the death of a six-month-old baby and two children killed during election protests highlight a terrifying pattern. The excessive use of force, particularly during politically charged events, has led to widespread condemnation from human rights organisations.

In the context of the mission in Haiti, these issues present critical considerations for the leadership and deployment of Kenyan forces abroad. They reflect upon Kenya’s domestic policy and raise questions about the effectiveness and ethical conduct of such a force in an international context. Tanzanian policymakers and the broader international community should carefully weigh these concerns in assessing the appropriateness of Kenya’s role in Haiti or similar engagements.

In spotlighting Kenya’s police brutality, Tanzania can also reflect on its own practices and systems, ensuring that domestic security forces align with the principles of human rights, justice, and community trust. The lessons from Kenya’s experience offer a cautionary tale that extends well beyond its borders.

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