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Witness: Ruto Could Have Stopped Kenya Violence

Court hears that defendant had sufficient authority to have restored calm as soon as fighting broke out.
By J.J. Wangui
  • Kenya's deputy president, William Ruto, speaking with his lawyer, Karim Khan, during the opening of his trial in September last year. (Photo: ICC-CPI/Flickr)
    Kenya's deputy president, William Ruto, speaking with his lawyer, Karim Khan, during the opening of his trial in September last year. (Photo: ICC-CPI/Flickr)

A prosecution witness testifying in The Hague this week told judges that Kenya’s deputy president could have prevented much of the bloodshed that followed the country’s disputed presidential election in 2007.

According to the witness, at that time William Ruto was the ultimate authority over the Kalenjin community in the Rift Valley region, and everyone would have listened if he had called for peace earlier.

“It came to my mind that on the first day when the fighting started, especially in the area of the Kalenjin community, if Honourable Ruto could have gone to [Radio] Kass FM or any other TV or radio station and asked the Kalenjin to stop fighting, the damage which was done could not have been done to that extent,” the witness said in court.

Fighting broke out on December 29, 2007 but the witness said that it was not until the following month that Ruto called for peace, although he could not remember the exact date.

“I knew that the Kalenjins were really adoring Ruto and respecting him, because immediately after he spoke, the roads were unblocked,” the witness said, referring to roadblocks set up during the violence.

The protected witness, known only by the reference number 356, testified with face and voice distortion measures in place. Large parts of his testimony were held in private session.

Ruto is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for planning and financing the unrest that erupted following the disputed outcome of Kenya’s presidential election in December 2007. A second defendant, former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang, is accused of using his radio programme on Kass FM to drum up support for Ruto and coordinate attacks.

More than 1,100 people were killed and 600,000 others were forced to flee their homes when the political dispute descended into ethnic conflict.

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, is also facing trial in connection with the violence. His case was meant to start on February 5 but this week judges postponed proceedings following a request by the prosecution to delay the case for three months.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda informed judges in December that due to the withdrawal of two key witnesses, she needed additional time to find enough evidence to bring the case to trial. Judges have scheduled a courtroom meeting for February 5 to hear the arguments of all parties on the matter. Kenyatta’s lawyers have asked judges to terminate the case.

At the time of the 2007 election, Ruto was deputy leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, ODM, party. Prosecutors allege that Ruto planned attacks against supporters of the Party of National Unity (PNU) – led by then president Mwai Kibaki – with the objective of forcibly expelling them from the Rift Valley province.

In the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin broadly backed the ODM, whereas members of the Kikuyu ethnic community voted mainly for the PNU.

Earlier in his testimony, the witness told the court that Kalenjins who had voted for the PNU were attacked and their houses torched during the two months of unrest. The witness told the court that his wife, as well as others, had informed him of such incidents.

“By 8pm, I returned to ‘Location 1’. At that time of the night, my wife was telling me what had happened to some who were in PNU,” the witness said, referring to places designated by a number rather than their real names. “She was telling me how their house had been torched and property destroyed, Your Honour.”

The witness said that others had also told him this.

“While I was in ‘Location Number 5’, I received some calls from people from my area telling me some houses belonging to PNU had been torched. They were PNU supporters who were Kalenjins.”

The witness also described how Kalenjin youths set up roadblocks in the area in early 2008. He recounted a journey he made on foot, in the course of which he came across ten roadblocks. One roadblock near where he lived was manned by between 30 and 40 armed young Kalenjin.

“They were all Kalenjins on the roadblock,” the witness told judges. “I saw them with spears, rungus [clubs] and banners. The first thing you were asked was to identify yourself, where you come from and where you are going.”

Witness 356’s testimony this week also covered a radio programme that the other defendant, Sang, presented on Kass FM. He said Sang allowed both ODM and PNU politicians to speak on his show, but after PNU politicians had been on, he dismissed what they had said.

“When they left is when Joshua Sang could be against them or tell people things against them,” the witness said. “After they had gone, he was advising the Kalenjin community to support ODM.”

The witness said Sang used the programme to criticise those who did not support Ruto politically.

According to the witness, Sang would also use abusive language to PNU supporters who called in to the station. “When Joshua was airing views on that programme, he was not referring to them as Kikuyus but he was using other words in Kalenjin that it could be recognised that he was talking about the Kikuyus,” the witness said.

The witness said Sang used the Kalenjin word ‘kamurulda’ which he translated as ‘tinted teeth’.

“That’s not good, Your Honour,” he explained.

The witness said Sang also used the Kalenjin word ‘kapchelt’. He said he did not understand the exact meaning of the word, but that it meant something like ‘sharp as a razor blade’.

The witness said that Kenya’s ministry of information had warned broadcasters against using insulting language or inciting one ethnic group against another during the election campaign.

During his cross examination of the witness, Sang’s lawyer, Joseph Katwa Kigen, sought to discredit the witness’s version of events.

The lawyer put it to the witness that Ruto first called for peace on January 1, 2008 on Kass FM, at the height of the chaos. But the witness maintained that he did not do so until a later date the same month.

He also put it to the witness that he had been told by the prosecution to lie about Sang’s use of derogatory language with reference to Kikuyus. The witness denied the accusation.

“When you go back to where I started my story of Sang, you could see that it was me who brought all those things or all those names to the prosecution. The problem was the person translating because he didn’t understand,” the witness said.

Kigen also played audio recordings in which Sang told listeners to vote according to their choice, be it ODM or PNU. The witness confirmed that Sang had asked listeners to vote for a person of their choice.

As he began his cross-examination on January 23, Ruto’s lawyer, Karim Khan, accused the witness of lying to the court.

Khan accused the witness of using time ahead of his testimony to refresh his memory of statements he had previously provided to the prosecution.

“The reason you expressed such interest in getting access to your transcripts is because you are trying to remember a false story rather than recall truthfully an event that took place. Do you understand me?” Khan put to the witness.

“It is not true, Your Honour,” the witness replied.

The trial continues next week but is scheduled to adjourn temporarily on January 31.  

J.J. 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.

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