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Kenya taps evangelical pastors to guide multinational mission in Haiti

  • June 6, 2024
  • 12 Min
  • 4

In the months leading up to the deployment of Kenyan police officers to Haiti, President William Ruto consulted with political advisers, security officials and foreign leaders about the high-level anti-gang mission. He also turned to less conventional advisors: a circle of evangelical Christian pastors close to him and his wife, according to a Reuters article published this Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

The pastors made recommendations to Ruto and served as liaisons between Haitian communities and the president, according to interviews with two of the pastors and three Haitian and American evangelical leaders.

Spokespeople for President Ruto and his wife, Rachel, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

The pastors’ efforts ahead of the deployment, scheduled for later this month, have included meetings with Haitians in the United States, as well as evangelical counterparts, U.S. government officials and even the most notorious Haitian gang leader. notorious, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier.

“We believe we are a tool that God will use to help,” said Serge Musasilwa, a Kenyan evangelical pastor involved in the initiative. A sociologist by training, Musasilwa has worked on conflict resolution in his native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in several other African countries.

Those involved in the initiative say the relationships built with Haitian communities will help the Kenyan-led multinational force avoid the mistakes of foreign interventions in Haiti over the past decades. Besides failing to stabilize Haiti, these missions left behind legacies of human rights abuses and disease, including a cholera outbreak blamed on Nepalese peacekeepers in 2010.

A U.N.-appointed panel concluded that a peacekeeper camp was likely the source of the cholera outbreak, which killed about 10,000 Haitians.

The UN has not accepted legal responsibility. “The more connected you are to the population, the more you can format the type of intervention you are going to carry out,” said Daniel Jean-Louis, president of the Baptist Mission of Haiti, who has worked with the Kenyan pastors. “This is one of the reasons why all previous missions failed.”

The UN said it left the country relatively stable when its 13-year peacekeeping mission withdrew from Haiti in 2017. A spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission said that the mission had worked closely with civil society and community organizations to reduce violence and improve municipal governance.

Not everyone is convinced by the Kenyan pastors’ strategy. Evangelicals themselves have a complex history in Haiti, where they have invested resources in humanitarian projects but also faced criticism for ethical scandals, including accusations of child trafficking by some missionaries after the quake devastation of 2010, and for preaching intolerance of local spiritual practices.

Pierre Espérance, executive director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti, said Kenya should stick to its security mandate, calling the overture to gang leaders an insult to their victims. “It’s not a matter of the gospel or praying with gangs that will solve the problems,” he told Reuters.

Ruto and his wife publicly display their faith. They have involved evangelical leaders in state affairs, including through the First Lady’s “faith diplomacy” program, which recruits religious leaders to support social initiatives. At a March meeting with evangelical pastors at Nairobi’s Weston Hotel, Rachel Ruto attended another event in the same building and explained that the group was working on a “spiritual solution” for Haiti.

“We cannot allow our police officers to go to Haiti without prayer,” she said, according to a video by Kenyan newspaper The Star.

The pastors’ close involvement in Haitian politics provides insight into President Ruto’s commitment to the mission, which has remained steadfast despite repeated delays and vocal opposition from many prominent Kenyans. Evangelicals have long been interested in Haiti because of the scale of its humanitarian crisis and concerns about traditional voodoo beliefs that some view as satanic. Haiti is the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the United Nations, and faces increasing gang violence that killed more than 1,500 people in the first three months of this year.

“I think, first and foremost, it’s an expression of their faith,” said Pete Inman, an American businessman and evangelical close to the Rutos. He added that there was also a strategic motivation for the mission as it strengthened ties with the United States, the mission’s main funder.

In his public remarks, the president cited a moral responsibility to Haiti’s population of African descent.

Inman said he put Musasilwa in touch with Fred Eppright, who heads the US branch of the Haiti Baptist Mission, after Ruto announced the mission. Musasilwa visited Eppright in Austin, Texas, late last year, then invited him and several of his colleagues in March to Nairobi, both men said.

There, for four days at the Weston Hotel, Jean-Louis, Eppright and two other American evangelicals prayed and strategized with four Kenyan pastors before being joined on the final day by Rachel Ruto.

“It was a four-day deep dive into how they were going to get involved,” Eppright said. The group drafted a document that Rachel Ruto presented to her husband a few days later, he said. Jean-Louis said the proposals focused on four subjects: public order, the humanitarian situation, political leadership and a spiritual component.

The following month, Rachel Ruto and three of the pastors traveled to Austin and Miami, where they met with evangelicals, members of the Haitian diaspora and police officials. Members of the Haitian diaspora have formulated proposals to pass on to President Ruto, covering everything from the legal authority of the mission to its duration, Jean-Louis said. Reuters could not determine whether their recommendations had been passed on to the president.

While in the United States, the Kenyan pastors held a video conference with Haitian gang leaders, including Barbecue, a former police officer who says he leads an alliance of major gangs called “Viv Ansanm.” Musasilwa led the conversation.

He declined to give details, but it gave him hope that the conflict could be resolved peacefully, he said. “This guy can be a devil, but there is something we can rely on,” Musasilwa added. Reuters was unable to reach Barbecue for comment.

Musasilwa also met with officials from the US State Department. The State Department declined to comment. Despite their focus on the practical aspects of the deployment, Musasilwa and another pastor, Julius Suubi, said they were convinced that Haiti’s problems were primarily spiritual. According to government figures, about 2% of Haitians identify as followers of voodoo, which combines a belief in a single god with the worship of spirits.

Many more people practice Voodoo traditions alongside other religions, said Kyrah Malika Daniels, an assistant professor of African American studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

In March, Kenyan pastors launched a global prayer campaign for Haiti and wrote a 134-page 40-day prayer guide. Many of the prayers of these days focus specifically on voodoo, which they called by an alternative spelling.

“We ask You, Father, to completely destroy any voodoo curse of death we have,” one of them states.

With Reuters

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Gazette Haiti