Kenya has featured quite prominently in the media of late for several reasons, one of them being a bold declaration that it is prepared to lead a multinational security force in Haiti in response to (ostensibly) a plea by the Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Henry. Haiti, also known invariably as Ayti, République d’Haïti, Repiblik Dayti or Republic of Haiti, is a tiny nation-state in the Caribbean that gained its independence in 1804 from France after a series of ferocious battles that commenced in the year 1791 under the legendary leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
From a colonial perspective, Haiti was the first country that was made up almost entirely of a population of slaves, and their victory against France to earn her independence was quite a fete back then. Almost immediately after attaining independence, Haiti was saddled with a crisis of being ostracized by her neighbour and the non-recognition by France, the former colonial power.
France was only able to recognize Haiti’s independence in 1825 after Haiti was coerced to agree to paying a large indemnity of 100 million francs, a pretty steep price by all accounts, with the payment period set up to the year 1887. Yes, the slaves were forced to pay their former slave masters reparations for their freedom, a complete oxymoron! By being saddled with the onerous obligation of paying for their freedom, Haitians who had managed to shake off a racist, colonial regime were condemned to a lifetime of penury.
Matters were not made any better when the United States of America joined the fray as a neo-colonialist power. The United States intervened in Haiti, staying there from 1915 to 1934, a period that some commentators have described as having been characterized by human rights violations and pillage of Haitian resources. United States Marines invaded Haiti in July 1915, after mobs had lynched the then Haitian President Vibrun Guillaume Sam, who had been angered by his decision to execute political prisoners. After the withdrawal of the United States in 1934, it continued to exercise fiscal control over Haiti, setting in motion cycles of inequality, capital accumulation by an elite few, and migration for the majority poor. The United States has its fingerprints all over the infamous Duvalier reign, from 1957-1986. During this period, the dark reign of François Duvalier, President from 1957-1971 (also known as Papa Doc) and succeeded by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc), President from 1971 till 1986 when he was deposed. The United States supported the father-son dictatorship, characterized by brutal human rights violations, violent suppression and terrorizing of citizens and political opponents, and continued economic attrition. The American support for the Duvalier was because of their ‘strong’ stance against Communism, eerily similar to paradigms witnessed in Chile, Burkina Faso and indeed all over the Global South. The Americans were to intervene in Haiti again in 1994 to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after a coup d’état.
The story of Haiti is painful, saddled with colonial/imperial subjugation, pillage and state weakness. Haiti has also faced a fair share of environmental catastrophes which has elicited lackluster international response. Against this abridged background, Kenya does find itself at the center of a cauldron of mess, the East African State diving headlong into Haiti’s overwhelming political and socio-economic turmoil.
Modern day Haiti is a weak state, characterized by gang violence, weak and/or inexistent state structures and a population that has had its spirit beaten and broken, essentially left to its own elements. Kenya’s gleeful acceptance to lead an intervention force that will ‘neutralise’ the armed gangs, protect civilians and bring about peace, security and order is a tard naïve if not uninformed. The problems that beset Haiti are deep, historical and structural. The weakness of the Haitian state has ensured that gangs and gang violence emerge as a characteristic feature of this Caribbean state, compounding the security and political situation.
As a former colonial nation, Kenya should be sympathetic to Haiti’s position. Haiti finds itself in a multi-faceted security and humanitarian crisis, in the words of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Foreign Affairs assume that Kenya will be the knight in shining armour, the guide that will help ‘Haiti rebuild vital infrastructure and establish a stable democratic government’, in quoting his words used in his interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation a few days ago, smacks of being a little bit green around the ears. Haiti’s deeply embedded problems must start from the point of a stark reality: Force won’t get to the root of Haiti’s crisis. Only smart monetary policy will unclog Haiti’s problems. France and the United States of America have a moral, political and legal responsibility to ensure that Haiti is restored to political, economic and social health owing to their respective past (dark) histories in the country.
Regarding Kenya, we must ask ourselves very difficult questions. Do we want to get entangled in structural and hemispheric problems in far-off lands, even though Kenya is amid its own socio-economic and political morass? Do we want to be involved in the affairs of others at a time when our economy is literally in critical care? In terms of international law principles governing the jurisdiction and mandate of a foreign force in another country’s territory, are we on firm ground in terms of legality? Remember, Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s legitimacy credentials have been questioned. It is stated that his mandate to govern ended in the year 2022, but that mandate is ever more tenuous now because the Prime Minister serves in a de facto capacity and has not been formally appointed in accordance with the country’s Constitution, which requires that the President nominates a Prime Minister and that that nominated Prime Minister is approved by Parliament. The Haitian Parliament does not exist as a formally constituted body today. Haiti also does not have a formally elected President as the last holder of the office Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021.
Another concern regarding legitimacy of the current de facto Haitian regime. Under international law and in particular, Articles 7 and 11 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Article 7 deals with a person authorised to adopt or authenticate the text of a treaty or for the purpose of expressing the consent of the State to be bound by a treaty, while Article 11 concerns, means of expressing consent to be bound by a treaty by a state). These two provisions, among other treaty law principles, envisage bona fide representation of a state while entering international obligations on the part of states. The legitimacy cloud surrounding the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry raises serious capacity questions about its ability to enter obligations on behalf of Haitians.
Kenya must therefore tread carefully in its intended involvement in Haiti considering the historical, moral and legal concerns that lurk in the background. Kenya which has paraded itself as being in the vanguard of Pan-Africanism of late must be wary of the optics it projects in its dalliances on the global theatre of politics. A nation must think before it acts. We cannot be that country that appears on the international plane as ignorant, tactless and clueless.