Kenya Witness on Rift Valley House Burnings
A witness testifying at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has told judges how homes belonging to Kikuyus in Kenya’s Rift Valley were set on fire by men from the Kalenjin community.
The witness told the court that during violence in early 2008, Kalenjin attackers armed with bows and arrows appeared in groups and poured petrol on the homes of Kikuyus, including his own, and set them ablaze.
The witness was the fifth to give evidence in the trial of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto and former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang.
Ruto and Sang are accused of orchestrating the bloodshed that engulfed Kenya in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election in December 2007. More than 1,100 people lost their lives and 650,000 others were uprooted from their homes during two months of political and ethnic violence.
The defendants face charges of murder, persecution and forcible displacement of the population.
Prosecutors allege that Ruto’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) planned attacks against supporters of the Party of National Unity (PNU) with the objective of forcibly expelling them from Rift Valley province.
In the 2007 election, the ODM was led by presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and the PNU by the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki.
In the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin broadly backed the ODM, whereas Kikuyus voted mainly for the PNU.
According to the protected witness, who was referred to only by the pseudonym PO487, prior to the attack the assailants marked the homes of non-Kikuyus with the code “ODM 41”.
He said the code signified that the Kikuyu were the only ethnic group out of 42 in Kenya that did not vote for the ODM.
“Homes that did not have the sign were set on fire by Kalenjin youths who wanted to evict Kikuyus from Rift Valley,” the witness said. “That sign was written at the gate [of homes]. If the plot had no gate, you could see it written on the post.”
The witness told the court that he lost his house and cowshed, and welding equipment he had recently bought to start a business was burnt in the fire.
Witness P0487 also described a campaign rally that he attended in December 2007 ahead of the presidential election. He said he attended the event at the 64 Stadium in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret.
He told judges that Ruto spoke at the rally and incited Kalenjins against Kikuyus and other supporters of the PNU.
The witness said that he left the rally immediately after Ruto finished addressing the crowd.
In its cross-examination, Ruto’s defence team probed this account of what transpired at the rally.
Asked by David Hooper, for the defence, what he heard Ruto say, the witness replied, “As I said yesterday, he said that Kikuyus were to be put on a pick-up [truck] and taken back to Central [province]. That one I heard it very clearly.”
Central province was an area of Kenya that was home to members of the Kikuyu community.
The defence played a news clip of the rally in question which showed that it took place at Huruma Grounds, and not at 64 Stadium as stated by the witness. The video did not show any of the ODM speakers calling for Kikuyus to be taken away.
Hooper pressed the witness further and put it to him that he had not actually attended the rally.
“I think that I went there,” the witness replied with a slight stutter.
Hooper put it to the witness that “Ruto didn’t say anything there about pick-ups or about putting Kikuyus in a pick-up”.
“No,” replied the witness.
Hooper then put it to the court that the witness did not attend this rally in December 2007. The witness protested that he did.
“I stick to my word that I attended the rally and in my mind I know it was at the 64 Stadium,” the witness said.
Earlier last week, another witness told the court that the violence which unfolded in the Rift Valley following the December 2007 election was planned, not spontaneous.
This witness, known by the code PO376, said attackers were fully armed and appeared to follow a well-planned command structure. She also said that in January 2008, groups of people might have been transported from different parts of the country to carry out attacks.
Witness PO376 described one such attack in Langas, an area near Eldoret where peoples’ houses were torched.
“It is at that particular time that people realised that it was not a laughing matter and this could have been a properly-arranged fight,” she told the court. “That incident could not have just happened. It is not normal for people to carry weapons during peacetime.”
The defence challenged the witness’s assertion that the violence had been pre-planned. They referred to transcripts of telephone conversations between witness PO376 and the prosecution, in which the witness stated that the 2007-08 violence was spontaneous.
The defence put it to the court that the witness subsequently changed her version of events.
To this, witness PO376 said that when she was first contacted by investigators, she did not want to discuss the precise details of the violence openly over the telephone.
“I told them [investigators] I could not talk to them because in my conscience it was bad to tell them that the violence was planned over the phone in a public place,” the witness said.
The trial continues this week. On October 29, judges ruled that a scheduled break in proceedings, due on November 1, would be postponed until November 8.
JJ Wangui is an IWPR reporter in Nairobi.
This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.