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Dear Haiti, our Kenyan police are a problem

‘As they arrive on your doorstep, all I can offer is an apology for the burden we have unfortunately brought upon you.’

Pictured through a wired fence, a Haitian National Police (PNH) tug truck carries Kenyan police officers’ luggage onto the airport tarmac, Kenyan police arrive in Port-au-Prince, marking the start of a crucial mission. Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Reuters Connect
A truck carries the luggage of Kenyan police officers as they arrive in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the start of their deployment.

I am writing to you as a brother who believes in our common bonds as Black people across the globe. I think there is a common tapestry of history and culture that transcends the thousands of miles between us and binds us so uniquely as a people.

Right from the outset, let me make it clear that the decision to send a contingent of Kenyan police to Haiti is driven by President William Ruto and his friends in Washington. It is very saddening to witness Kenya, a nation deeply familiar with the scars of colonial oppression, supporting a US-sanctioned occupation of Haiti.

While I understand that as a democratically elected leader, Ruto’s decision binds all Kenyans through the social contract we have with him, it is important to make it abundantly clear that we took legal action to halt this ill-conceived move.

The Kenyan courts initially blocked the deployment. According to the Kenyan constitution, the president cannot deploy forces outside the country. Such deployments are reserved exclusively for the military and require parliamentary approval, which he did not seek until after he had made the commitment.

At this time of writing, our security forces are being deployed in contempt of the original court order. This mission is therefore illegal, unpopular, and it’s also shrouded in mystery.

Moreover, the courts halted the deployment due to the lack of a signed security agreement between Kenya and Haiti. To circumvent that legal hurdle, Kenya, through our president, went ahead and signed a bilateral agreement with Haiti in March this year.

But as at this time of writing, our security forces are being deployed in contempt of the original court order. This mission is therefore illegal, unpopular, and it’s also shrouded in mystery.

As the first Kenyan police officers land in Haiti this week, part of an international intervention force supposed to bring peace to your country, that’s the shakiness of the premise upon which they are arriving.

Now, as a word of warning, let me introduce you to the Kenya Police Force. 

The basic requirement for joining is a certificate of secondary education with a minimum D+, the lowest passing grade. Recruits are also required to be physically fit, although this stipulation seems to be dropped as soon as they become constables, as they tend to spend much of their time sitting around police stations.

Bizarrely, a police officer is also expected to have all 32 teeth. They never say this part out loud, but anyone who has gone through the recruitment process will tell you that they actually count the teeth!

As you can see, very little attention is given to their mental and emotional capacity to carry out their pivotal role of enhancing internal security, and serving Kenyan citizens.

A history of violence 

Now that you know who they are, let me tell you how our police behave, based on historical evidence.

The Kenya police serve only the interests of the state. This dates back to colonial times, when they were formed to protect the colonial power, Britain. Upon the exit of the British, the duty of protection was transferred to the interests of those in power, and has included doing everything possible to silence dissenting voices.

Perhaps the worst display of their brutality is seen in their approach to crowd control.

The Kenyan police are known to fire live bullets whenever protesters gather. They resort to this extreme measure even when they are already clobbering, kicking, tear-gassing, and knocking people down.

Be aware their first response is always aggression. You will be dealing with a force trained to view people as lesser beings. They lack the capacity to reason, negotiate, or empathise — violence is their default response.

Despite our relatively progressive constitution and elaborate bill of rights, we the people of Kenya have borne the burden of this violence.

In recent weeks, street protests have erupted against a finance bill that aims to increase taxes for an already financially overburdened citizenry. Dubbed “Gen Z protests”, these demonstrations are led organically by fearless young people.

But despite their peaceful nature, and the guaranteed constitutional right to protest, they have been met with tear gas, water cannons, and live bullets. Tragically, more than 20 people have lost their lives and hundreds more are nursing gunshot wounds.

Several young social media influencers and medical responders have also been abducted and held incommunicado for days by the security services.

The irony of a country sending its police to keep the peace in a foreign land, but killing its own people at home, is not lost on any of us.

And there’s a long history to this impunity.

While enforcing government COVID-19 restrictions in 2020/21, the police killed at least 23 people and injured hundreds more. These were not criminals. They were innocent citizens trying to make a living during a time of untold suffering. Yet, what was the police response? Kill, injure, torture, and arrest.

Their violence does not discriminate between age or gender. In the 2017 general elections, this very police force we are sending to you beat a six-month-old baby to death as she was being cradled by her mother in the family home – an action explained away as quelling post-poll unrest.

So be aware, your infants are not safe in the hands of these people we are sending to you.

And your women and girls are not safe either. Of the 210 sexual violence cases reported during the disputed 2017 elections, 54% of them were committed by the police. So, please protect your women and girls from our police.

Dumping the bodies

Our police lack the sensibility and decorum required of someone carrying a firearm, therefore I encourage you to approach them with caution.

For years, Kenya has been awash with reports of young men being executed in broad daylight by the police. When conducting these extrajudicial killings, they have preferred places to dump the bodies – usually in rivers or in game parks – where they become food for wild animals.

And the Kenyan police can abduct at will. In 2016, they even abducted a lawyer, his client, and their taxi driver, outside a high court. All three were murdered and their bodies found on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi.

Even though I had said their loyalty is to those in power, this loyalty can easily be compromised if the money is right.

So, in Haiti, the first thing they might do when they arrive is to scout for a “proper” place where they will dump the bodies. Be vigilant: Do not allow them the opportunity to carry out such evil acts in your territory; have systems in place to hold them accountable.

Another weakness of the Kenya Police Force is their greed and fondness for corruption. This manifests in two troubling ways.

First, they will extort you out of your hard-earned money by threatening you with violence, or charging you with trumped-up crimes. They will harass you and your business constantly until they get the bribe they demand.

The problem is that as soon as you fork out, they will keep coming back for more.

But secondly – although I don’t condone corruption – if you are inclined to bribe, you can also get away with almost anything. So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law and you have a few dollars, rest assured our police will never say no to a pay-off.

And, even though I had said their loyalty is to those in power, this loyalty can easily be compromised if the money is right.

Please also remain vigilant regarding your shops, as our police force has been known to engage in looting. During an active terrorist attack at a mall in Nairobi in 2013, police officers were caught on CCTV helping themselves to goods in the stores.

Sorry, Haiti

But despite the disgraceful criminal behaviour of our police, hear this: We Kenyans are unbowed, unsubdued, and unrelenting in championing for a better Kenya for ourselves.

Now that you have gone through a crash course on the Kenya police, I hope you are ready to welcome them to your country.

May our spirit of indefatigability reverberate across your land, and may you meet the brute force of the Kenya police with bravery as you defend your sovereignty.

We are told it is your government that asked for their help. But if your government is anything like ours, then I am sure those sentiments belong to the officials, and are not necessarily a reflection of your aspirations as a people.

Nonetheless, as they arrive on your doorstep, all I can offer is an apology for the burden we have unfortunately placed upon you.

I wish you the utmost luck, and hope that you survive to recount to your future generations this cautionary tale of the Kenya Police Force.

Edited by Namukabo Werungah.

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