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10 Conflicts to Watch in 2024

 A woman walks past a barricade amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 3, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol
A woman walks past a barricade amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 3, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

Haiti

Haitians hope that foreign forces set to arrive early in 2024 will tackle the hyperviolent gangs that over the past few years have torn the country apart. But the Kenyan police set to lead the planned mission have their work cut out against heavily armed groups in dense shantytowns, particularly given the disarray in Haitian politics.

Since the killing of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, gang violence in Haiti has mushroomed. Criminals control much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as areas to the north, particularly the Artibonite Valley. Brutal turf wars – gangs fight each other and torment civilians – have driven tens of thousands from their homes, some seeking refuge in makeshift displacement camps where they may face dangers similar to those they fled, including sexual violence. Nearly half of Haiti’s population, some 5.2 million people, needs life-saving aid. Gangs’ predation has bred more violence: vigilante groups known as Bwa Kale, formed in response to gang violence, have lynched hundreds of suspected gang members without much diminishing gang activity. Polls suggest Haitians are in such despair that they back foreign forces arriving, despite the dismal record of previous international missions.

The Kenya-led force faces stiff challenges. Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, had requested outside help in October 2022, Nairobi agreed to spearhead the effort in July 2023 and deploy at least 1,000 officers, and the UN greenlit the plan in October. The mission now awaits approval from Kenyan courts after opposition politicians mounted a challenge, arguing that the constitution bars police officers from deploying abroad.

The mission’s mandate, which is one year to begin with, is to help the Haitian police “counter gangs and improve security conditions” – thus paving the way for elections. Aggressive operations against gangs, which a Kenyan police delegation assessed was necessary after visiting Haiti, will work only if countries sending personnel to work with the Kenyans are ready for urban combat and grasp the terrain. The mission must also avoid hurting civilians and strengthen intelligence gathering by local police. The Haitian police force will need to plug its own leaks via gang informants embedded in its ranks. If not, fighting could result in heavy losses for police and civilians alike, endangering support for the mission.

Haitian politics are another hindrance. A camp of influential political parties and civil society groups say Henry – who assumed power after Moïse’s killing and has since sought to entrench himself – has no mandate to hold office, even until another vote, and want a more inclusive transitional administration. Talks have yielded no agreement on a way forward. Without cross-party consensus on the Haitian government’s composition or the Kenya-led force’s role, the mission risks getting embroiled in a political dogfight. In this scenario, the widely disliked Henry could tighten his grip, putting the unity government that is likely essential for any credible election further out of reach.

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