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Challenges awaiting Kenyan-led MSS troops in Haiti

  • May 7, 2024
  • 11
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challenges-awaiting-kenyan-led-mss-troops-in-haiti

Par Patrick Prézeau Stephenson

Introduction

The Kenyan-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission, authorized by the United Nations and designed with U.S. support, aims to bring relief to a nation besieged by violence and political instability. With the first wave of Kenyan troops expected in Haiti in late May 2024, this foreign intervention will attempt to break the hold of powerful gangs and restore security to pave the way for long-awaited elections [1]. However, the mission faces myriad operational and political challenges, including complex gang dynamics, fragile state institutions, and a distrustful population. Here we examine the formidable challenges that the Kenyan-led MSS mission will face and its potential impact on the security landscape in Haiti.

Operational Challenges

1. Changing Gang Alliances and United Front

Haiti’s gang landscape is dominated by two main coalitions, G9 and Gpèp, which have demonstrated the ability to both compete fiercely and collaborate when faced with a common enemy. The potential for these rival gangs to form a united front against the MSS mission represents a major operational challenge. Leaders of the G9 and Gpèp have since declared through voice notes on social media that they are ready to reduce violence as part of an initiative they called ” Live Together », an expression which means “to live together” in Haitian Creole. This scenario would require the mission to adopt an agile strategy, quickly adapting to the fluid nature of gang alliances and anticipating potential coordinated attacks [2].

2. Urban Warfare and Protection of Civilians

Port-au-Prince, with its densely populated slums and labyrinthine alleys, presents a formidable environment for urban combat. Innocent civilians are in great danger during operations targeting gangs holed up in overcrowded neighborhoods like Cité Soleil and Martissant. The MSS must balance the need for decisive action with minimizing civilian casualties, which will require robust intelligence networks, clear rules of engagement and coordination with community leaders [2].

3. Corruption and Collusion in State Institutions

Corruption within the Haitian National Police (PNH) and collusion between criminal groups and political elites have long undermined efforts to stabilize the country. This internal challenge could compromise MSS operations, as sensitive information could leak to gangs through corrupt officers. It will be crucial to vet reliable local police units and build a relationship of trust with them.

4. Logistical and Financial Constraints

With a projected annual cost of $240 million and a need for up to 5,000 personnel, the MSS mission faces logistical and financial constraints. Slow troop contributions and insufficient funds could harm the mission’s ability to operate effectively and achieve its objectives. Kenyan officials stressed the need for financial commitments to be fully realized before large-scale deployment.

5. Legacy of Previous Interventions

The legacy of past interventions, particularly the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), infamous for introducing cholera and sexually exploiting residents, remains in the Haitian consciousness. The MSS mission must be exceptionally transparent, ensure robust accountability mechanisms, and avoid repeating historical mistakes that could undermine its legitimacy.

Political Challenges

Politics and Distrust Divisions

The deep divisions within the recently installed Presidential Transitional Council (CPT) complicate the mission of the MSS. Tensions between the Indissoluble Majority Bloc (BMI) and minority members of the CPT, who consider themselves marginalized, make it difficult to build consensus across the political spectrum. Bringing all factions together around a common vision remains a major challenge.

Absence of a Unified Political Vision

The lack of a unified political vision for Haiti’s future further complicates the MSS’s role in supporting democratic elections. Disagreements within the CPT over the holding of elections, transition arrangements and the distribution of powers illustrate the need for a coherent political strategy to guide stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

Engagement with Local Communities

Although most Haitians support foreign intervention to restore security, there is significant distrust of international forces due to past experiences. The MSS mission should engage directly with local communities, provide clear communication about its goals, and solicit input to build trust and avoid alienation.

Recommendations and Way Forward

1. Strategic Deployment and Progressive Approach

The MSS mission should not deploy in force until it has sufficient troops, training and equipment. An initial advance contingent of Kenyan troops can continue to map gang territories, establish intelligence networks and secure critical infrastructure in a phased approach that gradually establishes state control.

2. Intelligence Networks and Community Engagement

Developing community-level intelligence sources will be crucial to mission success. Collaborating with local leaders and verified police units can help identify gang strongholds, minimize civilian harm and counter misinformation.

3. Political Regulation and Institutional Renewal

The MSS mission is expected to work closely with Haitian authorities and international partners to support the political settlement that established the government of the Transitional Presidential Council (CPT). This government must prioritize electoral reforms, the independence of the judiciary and the restoration of key institutions to pave the way for free and fair elections.

4. Demobilization and Reintegration Program

A robust demobilization and reintegration program will be essential to providing surrendering gang members with a viable exit strategy. Economic opportunities, job training and rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism and promote social cohesion.

5. Accountability and Transparency

The MSS mission must meet high standards of accountability and transparency. Independent monitoring mechanisms should investigate allegations of misconduct, and full reports should be provided to the United Nations and the Haitian government.

Conclusion

The Kenyan-led MSS mission represents Haiti’s best hope for overcoming its current security and political crisis. However, success will depend on the ability to address major operational and political challenges. By ensuring strategic deployment, developing intelligence networks, and seeking a political settlement, the MSS mission can lay the foundation for lasting stability in Haiti. Ultimately, Haiti’s recovery will require the international community, local authorities and the Haitian people to work in unison, seizing this opportunity to build a more secure and prosperous nation.

References

[1] Politico, April 29 2024. Kenyan forces are about to land in Haiti — with nowhere clear to stay.https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2024/04/29/kenyan-forces-are-about-to-land-in-haiti-with-nowhere-clear-to-stay-00154980

[2] Haiti’s Gangs: Can a Foreign Mission Break Their Stranglehold? https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/haiti/b49-haitis-gangs-can-foreign-mission-break-their-stranglehold

Contact Media Patrick Prézeau Stephenson: Editor [email protected]

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