Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A prosecution witness in the trial of Kenya’s deputy president told judges this week how leaders of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party gathered support in the run up to the December 2007 presidential election.
William Ruto is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) alongside a former broadcaster, Joshua Arap Sang, for orchestrating bloodshed that killed more than 1,100 people following the disputed outcome of the 2007 election. More than 3,500 were injured and 600,000 others were forced from their homes by the fighting which quickly took on an ethnic dimension.
During the 2007 election, Ruto was deputy leader of the ODM. Sang had a popular radio show on Kass FM.
Members of the ethnic Kalenjin community predominantly supported the ODM, while Kikuyus largely voted for the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by the then president, Mwai Kibaki.
In court this week, the protected witness – known only by the reference number 442 – recalled one campaign rally held at the Kipchoge stadium in Kapsabet in the Rift Valley. She said that ODM leader Raila Odinga warned supporters at the rally that the PNU could rig the upcoming polls.
“If they dare steal votes, we will see a tsunami,” the witness quoted Odinga as telling the crowd.
The witness said she had not planned on attending the rally but heard Odinga speaking as she passed the stadium.
The witness said that former prime minister Odinga told the crowd to “unite and ensure that one tribe does not rule the country”.
According to the witness, the ODM’s chairman, Henry Kosgey, also spoke at the rally, telling the crowd that if Kikuyus won the election they would “urinate on us”.
Lara Renton, for the prosecution, asked the witness how the crowd reacted to the pair’s remarks.
“People cheered when Kosgey said about urinating,” she replied. “When Raila also spoke about tsunami, people cheered and were happy.”
The witness’s testimony also covered the period of the 2005 referendum on whether to adopt a new Kenyan constitution.
She said Kalenjins rejected the draft constitution because they feared that their land would be taken away and given to Kikuyus. According to the witness, Sang called on listeners to his radio show to vote against the document.
“Mr Sang warned listeners that if the constitution was passed, Kalenjins would lose their land and women would not inherit land,” the witness told the court. “He told them to support the Orange side that was against the constitution.”
KIKUYUS ARE “OUR ENEMIES”
Continuing her testimony, the witness also told judges that some time during October 2007, she attended a meeting of Kalenjin councilors in Kapsabet one evening on her way home from work.
She said that at the time, the councillors did not have anything to hide regarding the Kikuyus and “they talked openly”.
The witness said the Kalenjins had started referring to Kikuyus as “wenye pembe”, a Swahili term meaning “people with horns”.
The witness mentioned one particular councillor at the gathering, who she referred to as Nyondo, who openly described Kikuyus as “our enemies”.
“Here amongst us we have enemies,” the witness recalled Nyondo as saying.
She added that the others present at the meeting said, “You Kikuyus should go and stay with [President] Kibaki.”
The witness went on to describe events on election day, December 27, 2007. She told judges that when she returned home from voting, she turned on Kass FM and heard Sang telling listeners that the election had been rigged.
“Kass FM broadcasted that the poll had been cast and it’s good that people guard their ballots before they are stolen. Sang said, ‘Guard your votes in whatever way lest they are stolen’,” the witness recalled.
She said that as the election results filtered through, Sang “was so angry”.
“Sang was very irritated, he announced with a lot of anger,” the witness said. “He said the election had been rigged. He said Kibaki had rigged elections in places like Juja [north of Nairobi].”
According to the witness, Sang then told listeners in the Kalenjin language that they should “come out and demand” their rights.
WITNESS FLED HER HOME
The witness told the court how she and other people from the Kisii ethnic community managed to flee Kapsabet.
She escaped with her family on December 30, the day the presidential ballot result was announced.
“On that day, I left my home with my children and sought refuge at my Kalenjin friend’s house,” she said, adding that they subsequently fled into the bush when the owner of the house was threatened with arson.
They later managed to get to the police station in Kapsabet.
She told judges how they encountered roadblocks manned by armed youths, some wearing ODM colours.
At some of the roadblocks, youths had lit huge fires and used large stones to block the roads.
The witness described how, in order to identify fellow ODM supporters among the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin, the young people folded their trousers to the knee on one leg as a sign of support for the party.
The witness spoke of how, as they passed through various roadblocks, Kalenjin young people and women hurled insults at them, telling them they would kill them and package them in a container for Kibaki to use as fertiliser on his tea and coffee plantations.
Kalenjin women also referred to Kikuyus as “black snakes”. The witness said she understood this to mean that snakes were the enemies of Kalenjins and deserved to be killed.
On reaching Kapsabet police station, the witness said, they found about 4,500 people camping there, the majority Kikuyus. She stayed at the police station for three days.
The witness said that some people at the police station had deep machete cuts on their head and some had arrows lodged in their bodies.
DEFENCE CHALLENGES WITNESS TESTIMONY
During his cross-examination, Ruto’s lawyer David Hooper challenged the witness’s understanding of the way in which Odinga had used the word “tsunami” ahead of the elections.
According to Hooper, the context in which Odinga used the term meant that the ODM would win the polls with a landslide victory.
Hooper read out a newspaper excerpt which reported Odinga’s use of the word at a rally.
“Raila declared a fresh tsunami is on the way from South Africa towards Kenya, in reference to the ANC party defeat of President Thabo Mbeki by rival Jacob Zuma,” Hooper read from the cutting. “Raila asked President Kibaki to read the sign on the wall saying he should be prepared for defeat.”
“Tsunami, I suggest, that one can see is used in a political sense of an ODM wave. Do you understand? What do you say to this?” Hooper put to the witness.
“It is completely different from my thinking,” the witness replied, without elaborating.
Hooper also challenged an assertion the witness made in her statement to prosecutors that before the election results were announced at the tallying centre in Nairobi, Ruto slapped the then chairman of the electoral commission, Samuel Kivuiti.
“Did you really see that?” Hooper asked.
The witness said she had seen it on television.
“Kivuitu refused to announce the election results and Ruto slapped him and he was removed from there,” she said.
Following Hooper’s cross-examination, Sang’s legal team will have an opportunity to question the witness.
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
- IWPR Spotlight