© 2021
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Will Kenyan police officers be able to wrest back control of Haiti from gangs?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After months of delays, the first 400 Kenyan police officers have touchdown in Haiti, the multinational forces there trying to bring order and curb the gangs that have taken over most of the Haitian capital. But this deployment happened at the same time Kenyan police opened fire on protesters in Nairobi. NPR's Eyder Peralta was recently in Haiti, and he's been covering what's happening in both countries from his base in Mexico City. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with that split screen. What happened in Kenya, a country where you used to live, and then what happened in Haiti, a country that you recently returned from?

PERALTA: Well, in Haiti, a planeload of police officers landed at the airport. And they sort of paraded around the tarmac with their rifles and wearing what looked like brand-new uniforms. Monica Juma, who is the Kenyan president's security adviser, explained Kenya's mission like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MONICA JUMA: Kenya's purpose - sole purpose - is to serve as agents of peace, of stability and hope.

PERALTA: But back home, in Kenya, the scene was not peace, stability and hope. It was chaos. Young people had taken to the streets to protest the proposed increase in taxes, and police reacted with violence. They opened fire on the crowds. There were bodies strewn outside the Kenyan Parliament in Nairobi and at least 20 protesters were killed. Haiti's prime minister, Garry Conille, who received the delegation, said the Kenyans were there to help stabilize the country enough so that it can hold elections.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER GARRY CONILLE: (Speaking French).

PERALTA: And he said, we will move slowly to retake the country without major fights unless it is necessary.

SHAPIRO: Does doing this without major fights actually seem realistic?

PERALTA: I mean, that's a very good question. When I was in Haiti last month, I spent time with the gangs. They are well-armed. I saw dozens and dozens of men with assault-style rifles. And everyone I spoke to said if they were not given a place in this transitional government, they were willing to fight. On the other side, you have this Kenyan force. The officers who have deployed to Haiti are part of the GSU, which is a paramilitary unit of the Kenyan police. It was the same unit shooting at protesters yesterday, and that's not out of the ordinary. I was there in 2017 during the big postelection protests, and I saw that unit act in ways that were both ruthless and inept. And during that period, security forces in Kenya killed dozens of protesters.

Haiti's prime minister did leave room for a negotiation. But he also said that a prerequisite for that would be that the gangs have to lay down their arms and recognize the authority of the Haitian state. There's worry about this confrontation. The country director for Mercy Corps, one of the big charity organizations in the country, issued a statement today expressing his concern about the deployment. He said Haiti is already at a breaking point. Nearly 1.6 million people are on the brink of starvation. He said this deployment could, quote, escalate violence and endanger civilians, as gangs might use them as human shields.

SHAPIRO: Well, the international mission is there in Haiti now. Any sense of when they're likely to begin their work?

PERALTA: We don't know that. Neither Haiti nor Kenya nor the U.S., which is funding this mission, have given much detail. And it's worth noting that there are a lot of essential things we don't know. For example, we don't know what the terms of engagement are, and we don't know who will be in command of the mission.

SHAPIRO: Do you have any sense from your visit last month of how Haitians are feeling about the mission?

PERALTA: I asked a lot of Haitians how they felt about this deployment and what I got was a lot of shrugs. And the context is important. Haiti has lived through many international interventions. In 1915, the U.S. occupied it for nearly 20 years. And in 2004, the U.N. sent a mission that sounds very familiar. It was supposed to stabilize the country just enough to get it to elections. Instead, it lasted for 13 years. It was dogged by allegations of sexual abuse, and its troops were responsible for a cholera outbreak that killed some 10,000 Haitians, so many of the Haitians I spoke to have little trust in the international community or their own government. And a lot of Haitians I spoke to told me the same thing - the only one who can get Haiti out of this crisis is God.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.