A witness told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that ahead of a referendum on a draft constitution in 2005, William Samoei Ruto asked Kalenjins of Burnt Forest to prepare to evict Kikuyus from the area.
Ruto made this call at a function in Burnt Forest involving a Kalenjin football club and a Kikuyu football club on October 1, 2005, said Witness 658. He said Ruto spoke at length and spoke in Nandi, the language of one of the sub-groups of the Kalenjin. Burnt Forest is a town to the south of Eldoret.
The witness said Ruto told those at the function: “The Kalenjin to do what they had done before.” He explained that Ruto was referring to violence in the area that preceded the 1992 elections in which some Kikuyus were evicted from where they lived. The witness said the place the Kikuyu lived was called Rironi, but after they were evicted the name was changed to a Kalenjin one, Kaplilech. He said in 2005 there were still Kikuyus living in Burnt Forest town and some of the surrounding areas.
Ruto, who is currently Kenya’s deputy president, is on trial at the ICC with former journalist Joshua arap Sang. Both of them face three counts of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the bloodshed that followed the December 2007 election.
During his testimony on what he observed at the football function in Burnt Forest, the witness said that the area chief stood to speak. However, when he began addressing the people in Swahili, he was stopped by a member of parliament, David Koros, said the witness. He said Koros told the chief that they, meaning the Kalenjin, needed to talk among themselves.
Later in the day, the witness told the court that between February and April 2008, members of parliament went on air on Kass FM calling for the release of Kalenjin youths who had been arrested for their suspected involvement in the violence months earlier. He said he saw Ruto on television making similar demands at a rally in Kisumu. He said the demands were for the release of all youths irrespective of whether they had been involved in any of the violence between December 2007 and February 2008.
Witness 658 also said that Sang, who was a star presenter on Kass FM, controlled what was said on his morning show by giving more air time to particular callers or supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party. ODM was the main party challenging incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity in the December 2007 elections.
The witness said some of the regular callers to Sang’s program were someone known as “Chief Whip” and another known as “Councillor High Rise.” The witness said that some of these callers delivered particular messages to the grassroots because they were given a lot time to speak as they contributed to topical issues.
Earlier in the day, the witness was also questioned about some of the speeches at the funeral of Lucas Sang, a former 1988 Olympics sprinter. Lucas Sang was killed in January 2008. Witness 658 said some of the speakers lauded the former athlete as someone who had fought for the Kalenjins. The witness was also asked more questions about the Kapsabet demonstration he spoke about on Tuesday.
The defense began cross-examining him in the afternoon.
Witness 658 will continue testifying on Thursday.