William Ruto, a Kalenjin, got his start in politics in 1992 as organizing secretary of the ruling KANU party’s youth league. He quickly made his mark by ensuring that young Kenyans, and particularly the young members of his own Kalenjin ethnic group, showed up to vote for their tribe’s top politician, then-President Daniel arap Moi.
For this reason, many Kenyans are not surprised to find that Mr. Ruto – who has since become a top leader and powerful campaigner within the Orange Democratic Movement opposition party – has been named by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in “masterminding” ethnic violence in his home district and parliamentary constituency of Eldoret. Eldoret was the site of the fiercest ethnic fighting, where bands of youths carrying gas canisters and machetes chased out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kikuyus in the Rift Valley, people who were perceived to be supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, who is himself a Kikuyu.
Seen by his ethnic Kalenjins as their strongest voice in the opposition, Ruto was appointed to be his party’s toughest advocate in the mediation process of early 2008, led by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which produced the Government of National Unity that brought an end to the violence and continues to rule today. Later, Ruto served briefly as minister of agriculture before being shifted to minister of higher education after a scandal surrounding the mysterious sale of Kenya’s stock of maize in the midst of a maize shortage. Ruto has since been suspended from his job as minister of higher education in order to face corruption charges over the sale of public lands to the Kenya Pipeline Company.