Ruto’s Initiative: Kenya Police to Port-au-Prince

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President William Ruto appears determined to send a contingent of Kenya Police Force (KPF) personnel to help the beleaguered government of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry secure and stabilize the Caribbean nation. According to Al Jazeera, the two governments signed the “reciprocal agreement” ordered by Kenya’s high court as a condition to constitutionally deploy KPF personnel to lead a United Nations-backed law and order mission in the gang violence-wracked former Spanish and French colony.

When the Government of Haiti first made the plea for help in October 2022, Kenya’s high court judge, Chacha Mwita, ruled that the country’s National Security Council (NSC) did not have the authority to deploy regular police on law enforcement missions outside the country. While praising the Ruto Admin’s “noble” offer, Judge Mwita pointed out that the deployment “needed to be carried out in accordance with the constitution.” Citing Reuters, a March 6, 2024 article in Daily Nation wrote that Kenyan courts ruled that Mr. Ruto’s government needed a “reciprocal agreement from Haiti” before Kenya could agree to the deployment.

The recent signing of the “reciprocal agreement” also comes at a time when conditions in the small island nation border on anarchy following jailbreaks from the country’s two largest jails orchestrated by gang leaders. Several media sources and news outlets, including The Guardian and BBC, report that gangs control around 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. These same gangs have also demanded the resignation of PM Henry. These are the conditions under which William Ruto wants to send 1,000 members of the Kenya Police Force – a decision that begs the question:

Why?

Why is Mr. Ruto so determined to send one thousand men and women of KPF to face such chaos and anarchy?

What is in it for him, his government, or Kenya’s police force?

Given some of the pressing security challenges facing the East African nation domestically, these questions take on agency and urgency.

Nairobi is not nicknamed “Nairobbery,” a portmanteau of “Nairobi” and “Robbery,” without cause. PopulationU.com ranks the nation’s capital as Africa’s twelfth “most dangerous” city, while JamiiForums.com ranks it at Number 9. Urban sprawl, youth bulge, unemployment, the wealth gap, and the proliferation of guns combine with corrupt law enforcement and an equally corrupt judiciary to strain these agencies, including the same police force from which President Ruto seeks to draw 1,000 Haiti-bound peacekeeping personnel.

Efforts to understand why nations contribute to such missions yielded varied results with several consistent themes.

Altruistic and Murky World of Peacekeeping.

Ljubica Jelušič, a Slovenian politician and lecturer in defense studies at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Sciences, has some insights into the murky if seemingly altruistic world of peacekeeping.

In a 2004 article published in the journal Connections through the organization Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institute, the former Minister of Defence in the government of Borut Pahor concluded that while “the pre-deployment motivation of all surveyed peacekeepers had one variable in common: the perceived attractiveness of the expected job, offering adventure and new military experiences, the reality of the mission lowered the post-modern expectations and replaced them with the objectives of economic reward.”

Her survey reflected the views of Slovenian peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

They also mirrored the findings of Giuseppe Caforio. The military historian and researcher at the Italian Interuniversity Centre of Historical and Military Studies, Pisa, Italy, surveyed one hundred Italian peacekeepers in UNOSOM (United Nations Mission in Somalia) in what Ljubica’s research characterized as “among the first empirical tests of post-Cold War peacekeeping operations’ motivation (conducted in May 1993).”

His findings were consistent with Ms. Jelušič’s a decade later.

Aside from looking for an “overwhelming spirit of adventure, escape from home routine, and expectations of something new…..the soldiers had some values of altruistic military culture, while expecting to help and do something important in their life.”  Interestingly, “[T]he economic reward was the third most important motive for participating in the mission.”

Political, Economic, Security, Institutional, and Normative Rationales – For Peacekeeping Missions.

A more definitive set of reasons in explaining President Ruto’s decision to send Kenyan law enforcement personnel on a mission fraught with untold danger is offered by Alex J. Bellamy and Paul D. Williams. In a report titled “Broadening the Base of United Nations Troop- and Police-Contributing Countries,” the two researchers bucket the reasons for Mr. Ruto’s insistence under five headings: Political, Economic, Security, Institutional, and Normative. Under the Political heading, they list the following reasons:

  • Enhancements to a nation’s prestige and image,
  • Political pressure or persuasion from allies, great powers, or the UN Secretary-General or Secretariat,
  • To influence decisions about the operation through the acquisition of key posts within the mission headquarters,
  • Access to privileged information about a particular mission,
  • Strengthen a nation’s bid for an elected seat on the UN Security Council, including a permanent seat on a potentially reformed Security Council,
  • A way of repaying the international community for past aid/support.

In besting a political campaign featuring three of Kenya’s most prominent and influential families, Mr. Ruto’s relentless political instincts, if somewhat venal and stubborn, were highlighted and affirmed. It is reasonable to argue that Kenya’s fifth president sees the peacekeeping mission as a trampoline to burnish his credibility as a leader while gaining personal respectability and presence on the international stage.

Under the Economic heading, Bellamy and Williams list the following reasons supporting a leader’s decision to contribute their forces to a peacekeeping mission:

The World Bank’s outlook on Kenya lists “poverty, inequality, youth unemployment, transparency and accountability, climate change, continued weak private sector investment, and vulnerability to internal and external shocks” as challenges facing a president whose presidential campaign targeted the unemployed/low-wage earners, i.e., the “Hustlers.” Mr. Ruto will seek and accept any initiative that alleviates the preceding economic challenges, including deploying 1000 men and women to help stabilize one of the world’s most dangerous societies.  

Under Security, the two Professors (Bellamy & Williams) list “National Security Interests” as a motivating factor for supporting peacekeeping missions. Notably, they argue that leaders who contribute to such missions seek to ensure that “a bad outcome in a particular armed conflict (is) contained geographically or in terms of casualty levels.” Regarding geography, the distance between Haiti and Kenya is 12,139 kilometers (7,543 miles). Significantly, the two countries are separated by the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and several countries in West and Central Africa. I do not see national security concerns as a factor in Mr. Ruto’s decision to deploy troops to Haiti. Conversely, I see the invisible hand/s of Kenya’s Western benefactors, chiefly the United States, in supporting and funding the deployment. The Caribbean along with the American public are wary of revisiting their country’s (US) past involvement in that part of the world, specifically Haiti. Writing for the site Responsible Statecraft, Conner Echols argues that “[W]ashington’s concerns about direct intervention are in part due to the long history of U.S. interference in Haitian politics, including a decades-long U.S. occupation in the early 1900s and alleged American interference in several recent Haitian elections.” I would argue that President Ruto is doing the heavy lifting for Western powers (United States and France) responsible for creating or enabling the socio-political and economic conditions in Haiti that periodically threaten to destabilize the region and spread beyond the borders of the tiny island-nation.

Deconstructing the Institutional bucket offers an interesting insight into Ruto’s thinking about the deployment. The decision to deploy, especially a nation’s armed force, “can also stem from motives related to the country’s armed forces, security sector, and bureaucratic dynamics” (Bellamy et al., 2012, p.5). This is particularly true in societies where the military has been a significant or constant presence in national body politics. Kenya’s military is arguably one of the world’s more “professional and disciplined forces.” While Mr. Ruto’s predecessors ethnicized them (Hornsby, 2011), the country’s military has maintained an enviable level of discipline that has kept them out of politics save the 1982 coup attempt. The airman Ochuka-led putsch was quashed by forces loyal to then-President Daniel Moi. However, Mr. Ruto is not sending the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) to Haiti. He is sending its police force. This is a curious and confounding decision given the domestic insecurity touched on at the beginning of this article, not to mention the ever-present threat of Al-Shabaab extremists in Kenya’s Horn of Africa neighborhood.

Finally, despite some uneasy regional (Yusuf, 2024; Anami, 2024) and continental (inside the African Union Race: Why the Favourites Lost, n.d.; Onyango, 2017) neighbors, Kenya has tried to portray itself as a good neighbor, i.e., a “global good Samaritan,” “good international citizen,” or as a member of the “nonaligned” group of states. This attempt to project an image of compliance with or support of (international) norms forms the fifth bucket of reasons for sending the police to Haiti, i.e., Normative. The fact remains that since independence, Kenyan leaders have made foreign policy choices that have tainted the country’s claims of non-alignment. In varying degrees, the country’s first four presidents have presented Kenya as a client of Western powers, notably the United States and Great Britain. Decisions such as boycotting the 1984 Olympic Games when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan or refusing to condemn Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of Rhodesia’s independence belied the country’s claims of non-alignment. In short, Kenya’s colonial ties firmly aligned it with the West (Attwood, 1967).

A Mission and Rationales Not Without Precedent.

As confounding as President Ruto’s decision to deploy members of KPF on the mission to Haiti may be to some, it is neither unreasonable, inconsistent, or without precedent.

Ljubica Jelušič, Alex J. Bellamy, and Paul D. Williams offer frameworks that rationalize the decision. Given the state of Kenya’s economy, I would give a decided edge to the economic/financial motive underpinning the deployment.

I would also argue that the classist and entitled tone of the 2022 campaign against Mr. Ruto underpins his decision to seek validation and acceptance by contributing to an “international” initiative at the behest of one of Kenya’s main Western benefactors, the United States. While the preceding analysis strains of psychobabble, the humanist in me is loath to discount President Ruto’s pursuit for acceptance into the exclusive club of presidents of nations. He is determined to etch his name alongside peers, past and present, as an active member of the international community and reap the benefits of membership in that select club.

Washington M. Osiro is a Kenyan-born United States-based Quality System Management/Quality Systems Regulations (QSM/QSR) and Operations professional in the medical device manufacturing industry.

He has a BA in Political Science from UC San Diego’s John Muir College and is a graduate student at Arizona State University’s College of Global Futures, studying the intersection of Technology and Policies & Practices in Developing Countries

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