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Kenya Witness Describes Rift Valley Threats, Evictions

Court hears that Kalenjin leaders urged Kikuyus to leave and go back “to their homes”.
By J.J. Wangui

A prosecution witness has described to the International Criminal Court (ICC) how members of the Kikuyu ethnic group were threatened with eviction from Kenya’s Rift Valley after supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party claimed victory in a December 2007 presidential election.

Describing the events in Kimumu, an areas of the town of Eldoret, the witness said that some leaders of the Kalenjin community openly called for Kikuyus to return to the town of Othaya in central Kenya. The witness also testified that following these warnings, Kalenjins looted and burned houses belonging to Kikuyus.

“When they told us to return to Othaya, that was a way for them to chase us away,” the court heard from the prosecution witness, who was the 15th to appear so far. “They burned down our houses, took away our properties. Those were the signs. You see you cannot continue to live in an area where there is no peace, and therefore we were expected to flee and go elsewhere.”

The protected witness was testifying in the trial of Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, and former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang. The two stand accused of orchestrating the bloodshed that unfolded in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election result six years ago.

During the election campaign Ruto, an ethnic Kalenjin, was deputy leader of the ODM. Kalenjins, Luos and Luhyas broadly backed him and party leader Raila Odinga, while Kikuyus voted overwhelmingly for the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by the then president, Mwai Kibaki.

Testifying in The Hague, the 15th prosecution witness to appear in court recalled the actions of an ODM councillor, a man called Sammy Ruto, who won the Kimumu seat in the December 2007 election.

It was not clear whether the councillor is related to defendant William Ruto.

The witness said that after the election result was announced, Sammy Ruto travelled through Kimumu in a celebratory convoy and told Kikuyus to look for vehicles to travel to Othaya.

She said Sammy Ruto was accompanied by other Kalenjin leaders who were all saying similar things.

“Do you recall hearing anything as this convoy was passing you?” prosecuting lawyer, Lorenzo Pugliatti, asked the witness.

“They said that ODM had won [the election] and that’s why the Kikuyus needed to look for vehicles to ferry them to Othaya,” the witness replied.

She added that when she heard these words, she was afraid because tensions started building in the area.

The witness also testified that in the run-up to the election, held on December 27, 2007, Kalenjin leaders were saying that whether the ODM won or not, Kikuyus would have to go back “to their homes”.

“And where are you referring to by ‘their homes’? Where is that?” Pugliatti asked.

“The Kikuyus had to go back to Othaya,” the witness replied.

“Do you know why these people said that the Kikuyus had to go back to Othaya?”

“They said that because the former president, Mwai Kibaki, came from there, and Othaya is in Central Province in Kenya,” she answered.

During four days of testimony, the witness said that when Kalenjins and other non-Kikuyus said Kikuyus should return to Othaya, they used terms such as “madoadoa” and “sangari”. Those travelling in the convoy with Sammy Ruto used both of these terms, she said.

The witness said she understood the word “madoadoa” to mean that “Kikuyus were literally everywhere”. “Sangari”, she said, was a reference to a type of grass that grows in Central Province.

“We have grass in the Central Province where I come from,” she said. “When this grass grows, it invades the whole place and that plant is very invasive and difficult to uproot.”

“Did the people that called the Kikuyu ‘sangari’ say what should happen to ‘sangar’i?” Pugliatti asked the witness.

The witness said they implied that this “grass” had to be removed.

“That is why our property was looted, our houses were torched and we were told that the ‘madoadoa’ and ‘sangari’ should return to Othaya,” she added.

The witness also told judges that houses belonging to Kikuyus were burned by the Kalenjins, but those owned by non-Kikuyus were spared.

She described seeing two groups of Kalenjins meeting at a place she identified only as “Location 4”. After a discussion among themselves, "they started burning all houses belonging to Kikuyus", she said.

The witness described how on December 31, 2007, she fled the attacks together with her children. They sought safety in a place called Joyland. About 200 Kikuyus sought refuge there.

The witness said police then organised transport for these Kikuyus from Joyland to Eldoret police station. On the way there, they encountered several road blocks manned by both Kalenjin men and women. These people insulted them and "also hit our vehicle with stones".

Sang’s lawyer, Caroline Buisman, conducted her cross-examination of the witness largely in closed session.

She challenged the witness’s earlier testimony that Kibaki was leading in the vote tally as of December 29, two days after the election. Buisman played an announcement made on the radio by the chairman of the electoral commission, the late Samuel Kivuitu, in which he said that on that date, Odinga was in the lead in the count.

One of Ruto’s lawyers, Leigh Lawrie, later took the floor and challenged the witness’s earlier evidence that after the election results were announced on December 30, she heard ODM leader Odinga demanding to be declared the winner.

According to the witness, Odinga said that if he was not declared the winner, the Mediterranean and Red Seas would be filled with blood.

“I suggest that you are mistaken in your recollection and that Mr Odinga never said those words,” Lawrie put it to the witness.

But the witness maintained that Odinga did say this.

“He said on TV on December 30, 2007 that in the event he was not declared the winner, the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea would come together and be filled with blood. Raila then cried,” the witness said.

“Was he crying tears?” Lawrie asked.

“I saw him on TV crying tears,” responded the witness.

The presiding judge, Chile Eboe-Osuji, also asked the witness whether she was mistaken about this, but she insisted she was not.

Ruto’s lawyer challenged the witness’s testimony that as votes were being counted on December 29, her client slapped the electoral commission chief Kivuitu.

Last month, another prosecution witness also stated that this incident took place. (See Kenya Trial: Witness Describes 2007 Party Campaigning.)

When asked to substantiate this claim, the witness insisted that she had seen the incident on television. Lawrie played clips from two recordings in which Ruto is seen pleading with Kivuitu about the vote count, but does not hit him.

The witness accused the lawyer of omitting the part where Ruto had done so, prompting the presiding judge to ask her to clarify what she meant.

“The only part I remember is where Ruto slapped Kivuitu,” the witness said. “The rest I don’t remember.”

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.