Chaos in Haiti as Armed Gangs Rule

By Emily Thompson

At least seven people were killed after a powerful gang that controls a northern suburb of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, opened fire with machine guns on a protest organised by a Christian church leader.

Since the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021, the influence and potency of violent gangs in the region have experienced a significant surge. Their power has expanded to such an extent that reports suggest they now exert control over an alarming estimated figure of up to 80% of the capital.

But this is just the latest violent incident that has taken place. A report in The Guardian notes that:

From 1 January until 15 August, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, more than 950 kidnapped and another 902 injured, according to the most recent United Nations statistics.

Fed up with the surge in gang violence, Haitians organised a violent movement in April known as bwa kale that targets suspected gang members. More than 350 people have been killed since the uprising began, according to the UN.

Haiti is already faced with a complex socio-political landscape and its citizens have faced escalating challenges. The power vacuum created by the absence of a stable central authority has provided an opportunity for various criminal factions to seize control and expand their territorial dominance – always at the expense of ordinary civilians. These gangs, once confined to specific neighborhoods or districts, have swiftly capitalized on the chaos to consolidate their influence and extend their reach throughout the city.

This rise in gang influence is not merely confined to the realm of territorial control; it has also permeated various aspects of daily life for the residents of Port-au-Prince. The brazen assertiveness displayed by these criminal groups has led to a heightened atmosphere of insecurity and instability. Basic services and public utilities are often subject to their whims, further exacerbating the already dire living conditions for many Haitians.

Local law enforcement agencies have found themselves ill-equipped to effectively counteract the organized criminal activities of these gangs. This has created a dangerous cycle where the lack of a robust response emboldens these groups to take further advantage of the vulnerabilities within the system. Their activities range from extortion and drug trafficking to acts of violence that threaten the very fabric of the society.

The situation demands urgent attention from both local and international stakeholders as the nation remains without a functioning government and citizens are left without security. Addressing the issue of gang control requires a multifaceted approach that involves not only bolstering law enforcement efforts but also addressing the root causes that have contributed to the rise of these criminal entities. Socioeconomic disparities, political instability, and a history of systemic challenges have all played their part in creating an environment conducive to the growth of gangs.

The recent declaration made by Alfred Mutua, the Minister of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, regarding Kenya’s leadership role in assembling a “multinational police force” to address the ongoing crisis in Haiti, has raised eyebrows concerning the underlying reasons driving this choice.

Following a week-long reconnaissance mission, a Kenyan police delegation, headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police Noor Gabow, returned from Haiti last Wednesday. The delegation engaged in discussions with senior police personnel upon their arrival in Port-au-Prince, but no final decisions appear to have been made.

Amidst the discourse surrounding the necessity of such an intervention to effectively tackle the escalating insecurity, surging gang violence, and deepening humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean Island nation, it is important to unravel the intricate web of geopolitics that lies in the shadows.

Positioned at the heart of this Kenyan deployment stands the United States, a conspicuous proponent of the concept. However, what triggers curiosity and skepticism is the intriguing revelation that while the US displays a notable enthusiasm for this intervention, it remains hesitant to assume the helm of leadership itself, despite its evident military prowess and resources.

In a curious twist, it is Kenya that has been thrust into the limelight as the flagbearer of this mission, a role that usually aligns with the dominion of a superpower. This twist of events prompts legitimate queries about whether Nairobi’s active involvement is born out of an uncoerced, voluntary commitment, or if it’s a consequence of external pressures exerted on the nation’s geopolitical landscape.

The complexities surrounding this situation become even more apparent when examining the recent exchanges between the United States and Canada. Washington’s initial overture towards Canada to assume the leadership mantle for this multinational police force earlier in the year was based largely on the fact that Canada shares a language with Haiti – French. The linguistic commonality between Canada’s proficiency in French and Haiti’s status as a French-speaking nation provided a seemingly logical basis for such a proposition as it has the potential to foster both a bridge for communication and a unique perspective for understanding the complex sociopolitical fabric of the Caribbean nation.

But Canada has adamantly refused to be drawn into what they candidly categorized as a “Haitian quagmire.” Ottawa is staunchly determined not to entangle itself in what it perceives as an intricate and potentially convoluted situation in Haiti. This assessment is not wrong. Haiti is indeed a quagmire of crime and the lack of leadership and control only exacerbates the situation. Most countries do not want to get bogged down in the internal affairs of another.

The aftermath of Moïse’s assassination, coupled with the massive rise in violence and gang power, serves as a powerful catalyst for Haiti to figure out a way to crack down and get its act together. The path to reestablishing stability and security is intricate, but necessary, demanding comprehensive strategies that encompass law enforcement reforms, socioeconomic development, and political stability to effectively counteract the alarming grip these gangs hold over the city.

Image: Pixabay

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