‘We are ready for this deployment’: Kenya, Haiti leaders sign agreement for security mission

Haiti and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding Friday on the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police officers that both nations hope will allow for the rapid deployment of a United Nations-backed armed international security mission to help the Caribbean nation’s police force tackle deadly gangs.

The security and police-sharing agreement was announced by both governments, with Kenyan President William Ruto describing it as “the final step” to getting around a Nairobi court ruling. The ruling earlier this year raised doubts about the East African nation’s ability to coordinate the international community’s response to Haiti’s call for help to tackle rampant gang violence.

“I want to say from Kenya, we are ready for this deployment,” Ruto said in a video posted on his social media account on X, formerly Twitter, after the signing ceremony with Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Henry is on a state visit to Kenya, where a high court in late January blocked Ruto from deploying his police to the Caribbean nation. The court’s only judge said in his ruling that the deployment was unconstitutional because the two countries lack a police-sharing reciprocal agreement. The Jan. 26 ruling was a significant blow to the international community’s efforts to get help to Haiti, where gangs on Thursday rose up across the capital and forced the cancellation of international flights.

On Friday, after a period of calm in the morning, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a security alert warning of heavy gunfire and traffic disruptions near the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The embassy said it was “temporarily halting travel of official U.S. personnel to the airport and instructing any U.S. personnel at the airport to remain there.” Gunfire was also reported about a half mile away from the embassy and its residential complex in Tabarre.

“This journey is now as urgent as it can get,” Ruto said as he appealed to others in the international community to step up, and demonstrated that he’s paying attention to events in Haiti. “If what we saw yesterday in Port-au-Prince is anything to go by, it speaks to the urgency of this mission.”

Ruto said in addition to signing the reciprocal agreement, he and Henry “discussed the next steps to enable the fast tracking of this deployment.”

The significance, urgency and importance of the Kenya-led security mission “cannot be overstated,” the East African leader said. “It is a mission for humanity. It is a mission in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Haiti.”

Kenya, along with other nations that have agreed to contribute personnel, equipment and financing, “are responding to the cry of children who want to go to school, of women who want to go to hospital and find medicine, to young people who want to further their careers and to business people who want to continue to do. their business” Ruto said. “We are making this response because it is what is right. It is what humanity, it is what humankind can do to fellow humankind.”

Henry thanked Kenya for the solidarity, telling Ruto: “We did this appeal and you stepped up and you said ‘We want to help Haiti. We want to exercise a solidarity with you.’ Thank you, President, we appreciate it.”

Henry said both sides had been working for over a month to “fine tune” the mission and like Ruto, described the agreement as “the last step before the deployment.”

“We hope that the deployment will occur very soon because the people, they cannot suffer anymore,” he said. “What this mission is bringing is hope for the future... for the people that cannot foresee, I’m not saying the year after, but they cannot see how they will live the next day, how they will come back home.”

Thanking all who have are involved in making the mission a reality, Henry said, “What we can promise you is that we are going to do our best for the success of this mission.”

The Haitian government said the memorandum of understanding covers several areas of collaboration. Without offering specifics on how the two security forces intend to work together, Haiti said the collaboration includes fighting against organized crime, kidnapping, terrorism and radical extremism, managing border security, general criminal investigations, providing protection for strategic infrastructure and disaster management.

Whether the agreement will be enough to clear the legal hurdles remains unclear.

Ruto has said since accepting to lead the coordination of the international mission that Kenya has been working on preparing the it. Progress includes preparing documents on conduct and discipline policies for the forces, and protocols for detention, searches and use of force.

“There has also been extensive engagement with member states to translate the global solidarity into concrete support for the Multinational Security Support mission,” Ruto said.

The U.S., which co-wrote the United Nations Security Council mandate authorizing the mission, has directed questions about the mission to Kenya. However, Biden administration officials, who last week announced an additional $120 million in commitments to pay for the mission, say they continue to support the deployment and have called on partners to do more to help the Haitian national police stabilize the situation.

Shortly after the Nairobi High Court ruling, a senior Biden official said he believed concerns raised in the ruling, which are basically over the lack of a status of force agreement and a more formal invitation from Haiti to Kenya, “are very much solvable and were already in process at the time” of the court’s decision.

“There are other things,” the official said without offering details. “I think the government of Kenya feels that they have good arguments to address the concerns.”

Since the U.N. Security Council in October approved the deployment of the Kenya-led armed international mission to Haiti, the situation has grown even more desperate inside the country, where more than 314,000 people find themselves forced out of their homes by gangs. Hunger is getting worse.

On Thursday, intense fighting by armed gangs led to attacks against several police stations throughout the capital and forced the cancellation of international and domestic flights. Both American Airlines and Spirit Airlines canceled their flights from South Florida after shootings near the international and domestic airports. Among the police stations attacked was a substation in Portail Leogane, where vehicles were torched and the premises ransacked before police regained control.

To the north of Port-au-Prince, four officers were reported dead late Thursday during an attack against the Bon Repos police substation. By Friday morning, the death toll had risen to five, Gary Jean Baptiste, a representative of the SPNH police union, said on Port-au-Prince based Radio Caraibes. The bodies, he said, still had yet to be recovered from the police station, which remained under gang control.

The attacks came after the Caribbean Community on Wednesday announced during a press conference for its regional summit in Guyana that Henry, the target of resignation calls, had committed to holding general elections in Haiti no later than Aug. 30, 2025.

Though calm had temporarily returned to the capital on Friday and airlines resumed their international flights, the situation remains volatile. Gangs continue to hijack public transportation vehicles, loot and steal from businesses, torch private homes and kidnap unsuspecting Haitians for ransom and torture them in order to force payments.

With more than 1,100 Haitians killed, injured or kidnapped in January, according to the U.N., the month was the most violent in two years.

“An already dire situation is sadly getting worse by the day,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said about Haiti on Friday while in St. Vincent and the Grenadines where he was attending the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. During his remarks, Guterres also appealed for funding for a $674 million to help 3.6 million Haitians this year.

“Gangs are holding the country hostage and using sexual violence as a weapon,” he said. “Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti needs solid financial support.”

After the signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding, Ruto did not give a date for the deployment of Kenyan forces, but promised “we will not delay. We will be there at the earliest possibility.”

Reiterating this nation’s commitment, he said, “We believe it is a historic duty because peace in Haiti is good for peace in the world as a whole.”