Special Report: As ICC names suspect Kenyan leaders, records reveal talk of more ethnic cleansing

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected Wednesday to accuse up to six Kenyan leaders of orchestrating the ethnic violence that killed some 1,200 people after Kenya's Dec. 27, 2007 elections.

By , Staff writer

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    Kenya's suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto sits in Kenya's High Court facing corruption charges in Nairobi on October 26.
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When Luis Moreno Ocampo – the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands – names six top Kenyans Wednesday accused of orchestrating mass violence in late 2007 and early 2008, Kenyan security forces around the country will be prepared for the worst.

They have good reason. Supporters of at least one senior Kenyan, William Ruto, who was minister of both agriculture and higher education, have vowed to make their Rift Valley region “ungovernable” and to unleash a wave of mass violence modeled after the Rwandan genocide. Their motive: to punish their enemies, especially those who have testified against Mr. Ruto, and to prevent Ruto’s possible arrest and extradition to The Hague.

Calling themselves the “Friends of Hon. William Ruto,” a group of 20 prominent Kenyans, including famous marathon runners, prominent businessmen, ex-military officers, and local elected officials, has spent significant portions of the past year obstructing the ICC's investigation, intimidating witnesses, and planning a Rwanda-style ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley. The aim: to prevent the possible extradition and arrest of their ethnic group’s top politician for his alleged role in promoting the 2007-08 post-election violence, according to minutes of the group's meetings and other evidence obtained by the Monitor that is also in the hands of Kenya’s National Security and Intelligence Service and the ICC.

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Threats, intimidation, and even mob violence have been a common tool for many of Kenya’s top politicians since liberation from British colonial rule. But this time, leaders left the paper trail of the minutes, which offer a window into how far Kenyan leaders and their supporters are willing to go to gain power and to avoid prosecution.

“I have the sense that the Rift Valley will be taken hostage by the supporters of [Ruto], and that they are threatening to kill the Kikuyu community,” says François Grignon, a Kenya specialist and former director of the Nairobi office of the International Crisis Group who says that the ICC process could help prevent further violence if it is handled properly. “It will all depend on how it is done, by public indictment or by sealed indictment. If this is done very fast, there will be [no violence] to organize, and the person who is arrested may find that the best bet is in his legal defense, and by causing more death it could aggravate his situation.”

Make the Rift Valley 'ungovernable'

The Monitor, along with the Nairobi Star, obtained these documents through several intermediaries earlier this year. The Monitor met with several of the original sources to confirm that the documents were authentic. The identities of the intermediaries and sources are being withheld for their protection, but several of these individuals have agreed to testify before the ICC, and the documents have been received and accepted by both the ICC evidence unit and Kenya’s National Security Intelligence Service.

In minutes of their meetings, the “Friends of Ruto,” all of them elders from Ruto’s Kalenjin ethnic group, agreed that the “Rift Valley should be made ungovernable and difficult for any investigation to take place,” in the event that Ruto was arrested.

In the minutes, the leaders planned to organize “over 10,000 elite youth” to help “in dealing with our enemies.”

It is, of course, possible that the individuals named as participants in the Friends of Ruto meetings could claim that the words attributed to them were mere bluster. Yet the specificity of the plans suggests that the meetings were more than mere bombast: to recruit, arm, and pay 10,000 young men; to direct their attacks against ethnic enemies such as members of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Luo tribe and President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe; and the continuation of threats against eyewitnesses who testified to ICC investigators.

Now these 20 Friends of Ruto may find themselves the target of ICC investigations. Diplomats and human rights experts familiar with the evidence point out that the Friends of Ruto plans constitute a conspiracy to obstruct justice. And Mr. Ocampo last week indicated that he would seek the arrest of any Kenyan who attempts to obstruct the ICC investigation through destroying evidence or intimidating or bribing witnesses.

As Kenya became ungovernable after the disputed 2007election that triggered the ethnic killings, African leaders such as former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan intervened to get the warring sides of opposition leader Mr. Odinga and President Kibaki to create a powersharing agreement. But before the agreement, ethnic violence gripped swaths of Kenya, especially the Rift Valley, where supporters of Ruto -- then a key Odinga ally -- went from village to village and house to house, hacking to death ethnic Kikuyus who were presumed to be supporters of Kibaki, who is a Kikuyu.

The powersharing agreement put an end to the violence, but not the grievances behind the violence. And today, as relations between the coalition government members continue to fray, ethnic Kalenjin supporters of Ruto appear to be planning another wave of violence, both to prevent their leader from an investigation into the 2007 electoral violence and to punish those who would seek to bring down Ruto – and in their eyes, the Kalenjin people as well.

Friends of William Ruto

The Friends of Ruto, in the minutes of their meetings, betray a profound sense of paranoia about their community and the future of their leader. Their resolutions repeatedly show an ethnic group that sees itself in a battle for its very survival against the politically and economically powerful Kikuyu ethnic group, which has long dominated politics in Kenya.

Their plan appears explicitly genocidal, aiming to kill or force out all Kikuyus and Luos from what they see as Kalenjin land. And the greatest threat, these Kalenjin elders state in the minutes of their meetings, is for them to lose their strongest political voice in Nairobi: Ruto.

Prominent community members involved

The Friends of Ruto, according to the minutes and and to eyewitnesses, are prominent members of the community, including former senior military officers, former and current city and county officials, a radio talk show host, and even famous marathon runners.

One parliamentarian is honored by name for “sending 4 witnesses from the South Rift outside the country to South Africa,” a blatant attempt to obstruct the ICC investigation on Ruto’s behalf. “The same should apply with the other witnesses who will cooperate.”

The one man who is missing from the meetings, of course, is Ruto himself, and thus the ICC will have to find other corroborative evidence to show any connection between Ruto and the Friends of Ruto and their violent plans. Speaking to the Financial Times in a March 10 interview, Ruto said, "... my conscience is clear. . . Every activity that is alleged to have been done in terms of planning of violence or financing of violence or whatever it is, those are issues that I never participated in any way.... A fair process will prove the facts."

Secret monthly meetings

The Friends of Ruto met on a monthly basis as recently as March in Eldoret. The meetings were secret, originally held in hotel conference rooms but later held in the private homes of members. Notes were originally forbidden, but when it emerged that there were differences of opinion about what was actually agreed upon, the Friends of Ruto decided to keep official minutes of their meetings.

The documents read almost like an anti-Semitic tract from Nazi Germany, with at least a page devoted to the history of how the Kikuyus used their political and economic power to “steal” the land of the Kalenjin people.

The documents also accuse the Kalenjin people’s own electoral allies in the 2007 elections, the ethnic Luo supporters of Prime Minister Odinga, of betrayal, since Odinga launched investigations this year into Ruto’s role in a major corruption scandal and greenlighted the ICC investigation of Ruto for post-election violence. The investigation forced Ruto to be suspended from his cabinet posting as minister of higher education.

'Massive' recruitment of young fighters

“Immediately there will be a massive and secret recruitment of over 10,000 elite youth from across Rift Valley to help in dealing with these individuals and the Kikuyus who will still be in Rift Valley if the ICC implement their threat to arrest our leaders,” the minutes from a Dec. 20, 2009, meeting read. “If any arrests are effected, Rift Valley should be made ungovernable and difficult for any investigation to take place. We will create a crisis bigger than the one being investigated by ICC.”

“No Kikuyu or any other foreigner’s property will be left standing on our soil ... ,” the Dec. 20 minutes continue.

Their former allies, the ethnic Luos who fought to elect Ruto and Odinga (a Luo), will also be forced out of the Rift Valley, the meeting minutes of Nov. 10, 2009, read.

A sense of betrayal

“Our leaders worked so hard through the Annan panel of eminent African leaders and made him [Odinga] the prime minister, yet he and his close allies have betrayed the community. He has returned to hound us by supporting ICC investigations and targeting our people through evictions in Mau (Forest).... We will kick out the Luo community from our soil and all tea estates in the Rift Valley making their experience more painful than that of the house of Mumbi [he Kikuyus],” the document reads.

The use of “we,” “us,” and “our” illustrates a community mindset, with harsh measures for those members of the community who dare to take an individual path.

In the “Declaration” dated Jan. 2, 2010, the community leaders decided “that the selfish individuals who betray the community in major decisions and even undermine the popular leadership of the community shall be treated as ‘moderate Tutsis’ who deserve the same treatment as happened to those in Rwanda.”

The Rwanda reference is chilling, but factually misinformed. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority, along with Hutu – not Tutsi -- moderates who were attempting to resolve conflicts between the two rival communities.

Witnesses singled out for punishment

Singled out for “ruthless” treatment are three local members of Parliament and 14 other members of the Kalenjin community who agreed to act as witnesses before a Kenyan commission of inquiry into the post-election violence, held last year. The so-called “Waki Commission” heard the eyewitness testimony of human rights activists and other citizens into the evidence that the violence in the Rift and across the country was not spontaneous, but organized, planned, and in many cases, paid for.

“All the witnesses who refuse to cooperate should not live to see the face of Ocampo [if] the investigations and indictments become a reality,” the Nov. 10, 2009 minutes read.

Ocampo to name suspects by Dec. 17

If Kenyan politicians are counting on the support of their people, a recent poll conducted by Synovate polling agency on the eve of Ocampo's visit found that 85 percent of Kenyans support the ICC's prosecution of those responsible for the post-election violence.

During Ocampo’s most recent visit in late November, he expressed confidence that his case was strong and that he would name the chief suspects by Dec. 17.

“Since last March, when the judges issued an authorization, my office has been investigating post electoral violence,” Ocampo told reporters in Nairobi.

While the starting point of the investigation was evidence gathered by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, and a report compiled by the Waki commission last year, Ocampo says that additional evidence has been gathered.

“We collected new evidence, including testimonies, videos and documents. We are not going to discuss our evidence in the media. We will do it in court,” says Ocampo.

Those caught interfering with witnesses, many of whom are now living outside of Kenya, will themselves face prosecution, Ocampo says.

How strong are the cases?

For his part, Kenya’s Attorney General Amos Wako noted that the ICC cases may not be as strong as Ocampo thinks. Mr. Wako pointed out that evidence compiled in an investigation chaired by Kenyan senior justice Philip Waki in 2008 had been unable to find sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

“Let me remind you, and in the process also remind the ICC, that the Waki Commission was not sure whether there was enough evidence to meet the threshold required by the ICC or whether the evidence it had collected and which was part of the Waki report was enough,” Mr. Wako said last week.

Ruto told reporters during Ocampo’s recent visit that he believes the prosecutor is “still relying on the bribed witnesses to make a case against some Kenyans, which to me will in the end amount to fraud.”

Ruto’s lawyer indicated last week that six witnesses now living in hiding in Tanzania would like to retract their statements they had given earlier to the Waki Commission.

“The six witnesses in Tanzania have been in constant touch and they are willing to come home," Charles Koech, Ruto’s lawyer, told the Associated Press. "They are apprehensive about their communities' reaction for giving information."

Even Prime Minister Odinga, a target of the Friends of Ruto’s wrath, has indicated that his patience with the ICC prosecutor was "running thin.”

Yet, human rights activists and political leaders say that the long ties between Ruto and those who perpetrated the violence in 2007 provide sufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation.

Martha Karua, Kenya’s former justice minister and an outspoken Member of Parliament, says that those who encouraged violence in 2007 should be brought to justice.

“The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to charge the perpetrators,” says Mrs. Karua, who served as a member of President Kibaki’s mediation team in early 2008, which created the current coalition government. “The cycle of violence started during Moi’s time, but even then it was not at this unprecedented level. The only way to stop it is to uphold the rule of law.”

While the Friends of Ruto threaten to make the Rift Valley “ungovernable” if Ruto is arrested, Ms. Karua says, “the greatest danger is doing nothing about the perpetrators. If we had stopped the violence in 2002 (in a similar bout of post-election violence) we wouldn’t be having this violence today.”

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