Kenyan President Ruto arrives in U.S. during pivotal week for Haiti force deployment

Kenyan President William Ruto landed in Atlanta on Monday for the start of a critical week of talks with the Biden administration over the long-planned deployment of a multinational security mission to Haiti.

The Kenyan-led mission could begin within days, despite concerns among some administration officials that preparations on the ground are not ready to receive the Kenyan police force.

A small delegation of Kenyan officials, including the force commander for the mission, arrived in Haiti on Monday afternoon onboard a Sunrise Airways flight as part of an assessment team to inspect the construction of the base and airport. The delegation is expected to be in Haiti through the week and has several meetings planned including with the United Nations Integrated Office in Port-au-Prince.

Both U.S. and Kenyan officials have been reluctant to discuss details of their plans, fearful that Haiti’s gangs — whose deadly rampage through Port-au-Prince forced the international community to expedite the force deployment — could be storing ammunition in preparation for a fight. Sources have told the Miami Herald that the first contingent from Kenya is expected to be a few hundred police officers and support staff. A contingent in Jamaica is also on standby awaiting deployment orders.

The U.S. Defense Department has landed more than 37 flights in Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince since late April. The airport, along with the neighboring Guy Malary domestic airport, had been shuttered to commercial and regular flights since armed gangs launched their attacks on Feb. 29 against state institutions.

On Monday, Toussaint Louverture International Airport officially resumed operations, with an Amerijet touching down with cargo from Miami, and a local carrier, Sunrise Airways, receiving passengers for a Miami-bound flight scheduled to depart at 2:30 pm. It remains the only airline operating out of Haiti’s main international airport for now. U.S.-based airlines not expected to resume operations until later this month or early June.

Two United States service men take refuge from the searing sun under the wing of a U.S. Air Force C-17 on the tarmac at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. The plane was carrying supplies for the camp being built for Kenyan police officers who will lead a Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti.

So far, six countries have formally told the U.N. Security Council they will provide personnel to the Multinational Security Support mission. The U.N. on Monday also confirmed that a trust fund set up to finance the mission has received a new contribution: $3 million from Spain. The donation now brings the fund’s total to $21 million.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the swift deployment of the MSS mission to Haiti to support the Haitian national police in addressing the dire security situation,” U.N. Chief António Guterres’ office said. “He appeals to all member states to ensure the MSS mission receives the financial and logistical support it needs to succeed.”

Last week an opposition leader in Kenya, who has repeatedly tried to stop the deployment, filed a new legal challenge in the High Court in Nairobi. The court gave the government 14 days to reply, but on Sunday, the president’s office showed no signs of delaying the deployment.

A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. is aware of the legal proceedings in Kenya and remains “in regular conversation with our Kenyan partners” regarding the multinational mission.

The Kenyan’s president’s office said Sunday that his country has been in “preparatory mode” for the mission’s deployment ever since the Security Council approved a resolution in October drafted by the U.S. The presidency noted the legal challenges and the recent forced resignation of Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry among the hurdles affecting the deployment.

“Our government is in the process of finalizing preparations to deploy,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei said during a press conference. “I can tell you for sure that deployment will happen in the next few days, few weeks.”

Sing’oei denied reports that Ruto plans to visit Port-au-Prince after his U.S. tour.

Ruto plans to meet with civic leaders in Atlanta before flying to Washington on Wednesday, where President Joe Biden will host the him in an official state visit. He will also have “extensive engagements” on Capitol Hill, including meetings with the speaker of the House, the Congressional Black Caucus and members of both parties in the House and Senate, Ruto’s office said in a press conference ahead of his arrival.

“President Ruto’s visit to Atlanta reflects the city’s growing global importance and underscores its central role in America’s progress towards a more inclusive democracy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “I welcome President Ruto’s engagements with civic leaders on issues of democratic governance while in Atlanta, as well as his focus on our people-to-people ties, public health partnerships, educational exchanges, investments in shared prosperity, and his engagements with Atlanta’s African Diaspora.”

Ahead of his U.S. visit, Ruto’s office said the visit reflects the two countries’ past partnership and is a tribute to 60 years of diplomatic ties.