The Star (Nairobi)

25 November 2013

Kenya: ICC - William Ruto Taking It in Stride

Photo: Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the Mashujaa Day celebration on 20th October 2013.

The ICC conversation refuses to go away and indeed it should stay in the limelight - unless we were simply playing politics with the matter. I'd like to believe we are not.

My article last week drew a lot more response than I anticipated and amazingly positive (which for me is a little worrying). Of the emails, text messages and even inbox messages I got, the one that really caught my eye was from one Michael Kimani Mwai. His observation was rather curious. He said, "have you noticed how very subtly William Ruto is becoming a hero?"

Mwai pointed me to an online link of pictures of the Deputy President at the ICC. Ruto smiling, Ruto standing tall, Ruto with his daughter (I had missed that one), Ruto with his wife, with his lawyer and once the comedians faded into the background, Ruto holding his own. Ruto getting on with the toughest undertaking of his life - with almost unprecedented ease and charm?

Kimani Mwai says, "I shudder to think of the folklore that will be told about this man in years to come. He walked into the lion's den and walked out smiling - over and over again." On the first day of his trial, the case was adjourned. And only last week, the Chief prosecutor requested an adjournment even after the Deputy President dutifully travelled back to the Hague for his trial hearing.

I'd like to bet that when this case started, Ruto was probably as irritable as anyone would be about the negative spotlight, the constant travel, the back and forth, the time wasted and the lack of continuity in life, both personal and political. You and I would be as frazzled. But he has argued, pushed and requested, through this lawyers, to be allowed to sit-out some of the hearings, yet, by and large, that has been denied. Amazingly - given the activist William Ruto can be - he hasn't dug-in his heels and kicked, screamed and hissed; he seems to have shrugged his shoulders and said "sawa - tuendelee".

As days go by, the man is looking better for it and it may be just me, but he seems to have a very apt PR machinery working for him as well. It's not just the pictures that tell the story of a man who wishes to prove his innocence, but it's the constant reminder in the news that "he is due back in three days, two days, he leaves today, he has arrived."

And then last week - oh! The hearings have been adjourned until January 2014. Eh?

Last Friday, three witnesses who had been lined up by the ICC Prosecutor to testify against Ruto failed to arrive at the court's headquarters.

This meant that Ruto's trial was adjourned to January 2014 to allow the Prosecutor's Office to put their house in order. It is said the three witnesses -- P032, P0128 and P0409 -- are among those who were to connect Ruto and Sang to the Kiambaa Church inferno where more than 30 people died during the 2007-08 post-election violence. As a result of the new developments, Trial Chamber V (a) Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji directed that the trial against Ruto and Sang be adjourned to January 13 next year. Osuji also warned the Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, of conducting shoddy investigations warning her that the cases could be terminated for her lack of thorough preparation.

When you read through the steady flow of news on this matter, the whole process paints the picture of a man standing by his word, showing up when he says he will and best of all, taking it all in stride. Like him or hate him and William Ruto is a polarising personality (I know a thing or two about that) - you either love him or hate him - you can't help but watch and even grudgingly admire the way he's taking this on.

Strangely, he isn't given to making crazy statements about the proceedings and when he does speak about the ICC process, he is careful to play politics yet at the same time remind everyone that he is going to see this through. We are one, yes... lakini si sana hivyo.

Meanwhile, the PR machinery that should be vested in President Uhuru's image and future as the steward of all things Kenyan is not working as hard to ensure that Kenyans see him as bold and fearless in the face of these charges.

Unlike Kimani Mwai, I don't tremble at the nature of the folklore that will be written and told about William Ruto - that's already in motion - I worry about the image of the President should indeed the case against his deputy be terminated and Ruto takes one final flight home from the Hague and lands at JKIA "a hero".

I worry that with every day Uhuru doesn't get his case underway, he gives the "other side" a chance to truly build their case, not just against him but his presidency.

I worry about the man William Ruto will be and how he and our President will continue to run this nation as a unit. It will be tough, at best.

As mainstream media, we self sensor a lot. Which is why I get irritated by myopic politicians who want to play games with our freedom. The one thing we have been very careful about is drawing that clear distinction in style between the President and his deputy. We know that we are holding onto a fragile state of affairs here and so long as we handle the President with kid gloves and hope his "supporters" will not sabotage him, we'll be fine.

President Uhuru, I hope you got my blanket and I do hope you know that no matter how the cookie crumbles, you show up for yourself. I want to point out one small issue that might have escaped you - your last name is Kenyatta. You were born to this. It's in your DNA. Your father never had it easy and I don't believe the planets and the heavens are wrong in having you as President 50 years to the day your father took stewardship of this nation. Something is happening in Kenya.

History is being written around you and by you. Everything about you is historical. Everything. Think about it - who thought you would actually run for President with the indictment hanging over your head. Who thought you'd actually win. Who thought that on winning you would actually get to work - like seriously working. Who? You surprise me everyday. I think you surprise yourself too.

If there is one thing I like about your battle with the "west" is that you have interestingly opened up the country and the region to new partners. You are changing conversations everywhere. It's probably not by design, but it's happening. Who would have thought that a Commonwealth nation would flip the bird and go and hang out with some desert tsars? Who? You are influencing and changing mindsets and conversations everywhere - At the UN, at the CommonWealth, everywhere. Everything about you and this moment in our time is historical - everything. Don't get it twisted.

I wouldn't dare tell you to take pointers from the Deputy President, but he's onto something. And his actions in the weeks, months since September 17, 2013 have redefined him somewhat #justsaying. Over to you - Kenya and the world is watching.

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