A History of Violence

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In African folklore, there is a character that looms large for its polished deception, which guile often results in sizzling dramatic irony. The story usually culminates in a situation where the devious, meek-looking carnivore is entrusted with the care of the docile herbivores, often depicted as sheep.

There is likelihood that lore might imitate life in the on-going dialogue over the Kenyan crisis, particularly given the appointment of people linked to tribal violence as negotiators and engineers of peace.

William Ruto was recently appointed by ODM as one of its three negotiators in the Kofi Annan-led mediation efforts that aim to reconcile Kenyans after a spate of post-election violence. Given numerous accusations against him, alleging links to and inspiration of the violence in the Rift Valley, the question must be asked: Is Kenya entrusting its peace negotiations to a war-monger? If indeed William Ruto is a war monger, how can we expect him to negotiate in good faith in the larger interest of the country? As this description in Time magazine states, Ruto holds the key to this crisis . “William Ruto, part of Odinga’s inner circle, and his ilk are key to this crisis. Yes, they attend peace talks, but they’re accused of inciting ethnic violence on the side. Who is this man, Ruto?

William Samoei Ruto is the youthful and articulate member of parliament for Eldoret North. He is very good on the stump, and his urbane manner and mostly flawless English and Kiswahili set him apart from older generation of Kalenjin politicians who speak tortured versions of both these languages. A member of the Nandi sub-tribe of the Kalenjin meta-ethnic group, he shares a name with the legendary Kalenjin hero, Orkoiyot Koitalel Turugat arap Samoei, whose resistance to British colonialism led to his death at the hands of the British imperialist Captain Richard Meinertzhagen.

Many Kalenjins view Ruto as the reincarnation of Koitalel, or at least a descendant. Like Koitalel, Ruto is seen as defending Kalenjin rights; these are imagined in pre-contact terms when the Nandi numbered 30,000 and raided their neighbors with impunity. This myth is instrumental in understanding how Ruto was able to emerge as the foremost Kalenjin leader before he was even 40 years, dethroning former President Daniel who is seen as hailing from the Tugen, a smaller Kalenjin sub-tribe, and supplanting the likes of Nicholas Biwott, who hails from the less gallant Elgeyo sub-tribe of the Kalenjin.

Despite his shinning political star, Ruto has been accused of instigating clashes that have led to the displacement of thousands of people in the Rift Valley in organized violence. For reference, see Senior Counsel Mutula Kilonzo’s interview on how violence in the Rift Valley was organized here.

To be fair to Ruto, he has not yet been tried and found guilty of such incitement or for his role as the kiptainik (leading warrior). However, there is a sizeable amount of published information that suggests a link between him and the violence.

Amongst other reports, he was cited for hate speech in a document called Still Behaving Badly: Second Periodic Report of the Election-Monitoring Project, published in December last year by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC). This report was but a tip of the iceberg. According to the Parliamentary Hansard of April 2007 on page 346, a former assistant minister for Planning and National Development, J. Serut, named Samoei (Ruto), amongst others, as the group that was inciting people in the Mt. Elgon area of Kenya. The violence in that area – and as far as Kitale – claimed 200 lives last year, mainly members of the Bukusu community who are seen, like the Kikuyus and Kisiis, as having illegally occupied land in the Rift Valley that “belongs” to the Kalenjin. A dozen policemen also lost their lives in the Mt. Elgon violence blamed on the so-called Saboti Land Defence Forces (SLDF).

Interestingly, a Fred Chesebe Kapondi, who was arrested and charged with the violence last year, was elected as Member of Parliament on an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket. His charges are still pending in court and he will have to divide his time between parliament and the courts. Kapondi is in good company in the ODM. Ruto, and others such as Franklin Bett, a member of parliament from the greater Kericho district which has seen a lot of violence directed at Kisiis and Kikuyus, belong to ODM. Bett was also named in parliament by Serut for his role in fomenting violence.

While it could be argued that Serut was misusing parliamentary privilege to name individuals such Ruto, what is clear is that Ruto’s name keeps coming up whenever incitement is reported – in and out of parliament.

According to KNHRC’s report on the Constitutional Referendum published in September 2006, Ruto was once again named for incitement in the run up to the constitutional referendum of November 2005.

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