Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
ICC Kenya Defendant Issued Coded Demands for Ethnic Evictions
A protected witness at the International Criminal Court. (Photo: ICC-CPI)
The 12th witness to take the stand in the trial of Kenya’s deputy president told judges this week that William Ruto used election rallies to call on ethnic Kalenjin to evict members of other groups from the Rift Valley.
The protected witness, who is known only by the reference number 409, said that Ruto and former government minister Henry Kosgey urged people at a series of rallies in late 2007 to “uproot tree stumps from our area”.
Both men spoke Kalenjin, the language of their community, and used terms like as “tree stumps”, “weeds” or “grass” to refer to people from other ethnic groups living in the Rift Valley.
Ruto is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), along with former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang, facing charges of orchestrating the bloodshed that engulfed parts of Kenya following the disputed outcome of a presidential election in December 2007.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been charged in a separate case.
More than 1,100 people were killed and 650,000 others displaced in the violence which raged for two months in 2007-08.
During the 2007 election, Ruto was deputy leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party.
Kalenjin predominantly supported the ODM while other groups largely voted for the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by the then-president, Mwai Kibaki.
Prosecutors in The Hague allege that in the run-up to the polls, Ruto “addressed the crowds passionately and incited them, declaring either directly or through parables that non-ODM supporters should be evicted”. (See, for example, Kenyan Defendant Threatened to "Uproot" Opponents.)
In 2007, Kosgey was a member of parliament for the Tinderet constituency in the Nandi area of the Rift Valley.
He was one of the six individuals originally brought before the ICC for crimes related to the electoral unrest. But in January 2012, judges declined to confirm charges against him and dismissed the case.
According to the witness, at one campaign rally held at the region’s Nandi Hills stadium, Ruto told supporters that “Kalenjins do not want trees brought by the whites in the Rift Valley”.
The witness said that, at the same rally, Ruto told the crowd in Kalenjin, “Don’t leave the grass to grow into your homes.”
He told the court that “grass” meant non-Kalenjins who had bought land and settled in the Rift Valley.
Ruto then told members of the Kalenjin community that “they should do the work that they had been assigned”. According to the witness, the Kalenjin sentence used by Ruto was, “Kimache oai kazit komye ne kiagonin.”
The witness told the court that at the time, he did not understand exactly what Ruto meant, and he interpreted it as a call on supporters to vote for the ODM. But when violence erupted in the days following the polls, the witness said, he then understood.
“When the fighting broke out, it is when I concluded that since the statement had been made in Kalenjin, the message was directed at the Kalenjins and was not about voting,” he told the court.
He said that Ruto’s and Kosgey’s campaign speeches always ended with messages in the Kalenjin language.
“At each rally, Ruto spoke in Swahili first and then in Kalenjin,” the witness said.
At another rally in the town of Meteitei, the witness said that Ruto spoke in Swahili and asked people to vote for the ODM, but then switched to Kalenjin and said, “I want you to do the work I told you.”
According to the witness, Ruto told crowds at the Meteitei rally, “We want you to uproot the trees.”
Lorenzo Pugliatti for the prosecution asked the witness what he understood by the term “trees” in this context.
“I understood him to be referring to those people who worked for the white man – the Luhya, Kikuyu and the Kisii [ethnic groups],” the witness said.
The witness told the court that although not a native Kalenjin speaker, he knew the language and understood the remarks made at the rallies.
Continuing his testimony, he described events during the night that violence erupted in his home town of Nandi. He was forced to seek refuge at a local school with other non-Kalenjins.
“When I was outside my house I saw torches going round on each side and those carrying them were singing. Men were singing songs that were unusual,” he said.
“Had you heard these songs before?” Pugliatti asked.
“Those were not songs you could hear on any given day; those were songs signifying war,” he answered.
The witness also said that, as the election campaign intensified, relations between neighbours from the Kalenjin community and other groups in the area changed.
He described how friends from different ethnic groups started to become secretive.
Pugliatti asked the witness to elaborate.
“What I mean is, you could see a group of Kalenjins talking amongst themselves but when a non-Kalenjin like me who is a Luhya approached them, they immediately stopped talking,” he said.
During their cross-examination of the witness, lawyers for the defence sought to discredit his knowledge of the Kalenjin language.
Sang’s lawyer, Joseph Katwa Kigen, challenged the witness’s understanding of the phrase allegedly used by Ruto asking supporters to “do their work”.
He put it to the witness that the word Ruto allegedly used for “work” – “kazit” – was not Kalenjin but Swahili, correctly “kazi”. The witness insisted that he knew it as a Kalenjin word.
“If you are in a situation where they were speaking Kalenjin, would you admit you would miss out on some words?” lawyer Kigen asked.
The witness said he understood spoken Kalenjin but could not read or write it.
Karim Khan, representing Ruto, challenged the witness’s claims that his client called for non-Kalenjins to be evicted from the Rift Valley.
He showed a video clip of Ruto at a rally in Kapsabet in the Rift Valley where he told people from other groups not to be afraid.
“If you are a Luhya, don’t be deceived,” Ruto said in the video, according to Khan’s translation. “They say with this devolution you will be chased out. If you have a farm here, this is your home. The constitution guarantees the rights of every Kenyan. Kenyans fighting against Kenyans is not on ODM’s agenda.”
Khan pointed out to the court that the prosecution had not produced any video footage of Ruto making inflammatory statements.
“The reason why there is no video given by the prosecution or found by us of any words like this at any of these rallies is because Mr Ruto never said anything else except that all people live freely and safely,” Khan told the court.
Kahn also put it to the witness that Ruto did not attend the rally at Nandi Hills or a rally at the Kapchorua tea farm that the witness had described earlier.
Khan produced a visitors’ book from Kapchorua that was signed by Kosgey but not Ruto.
But the witness insisted that Ruto had been present at both rallies.
“I saw Ruto and Kosgey at Kapchorua and I heard them incite Kalenjins against non-Kalenjins,” he said.
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.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications