24 February 2014

Kenya: First Expert Witness Called in Ruto Prosecution

Academic tells judges of growth of armed factions in the run-up to 2007 Kenyan election.

The prosecution's first expert witness in the trial of Kenya's deputy president described the growth of militia groups in the Rift Valley ahead of the 2007 presidential election.

Dr Hervé Maupeu, a French academic who specialises in Kenyan social and political affairs, wrote an expert report for the case against William Ruto and a former broadcast journalist, Joshua Arap Sang, at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ruto and Sang are charged with crimes against humanity relating to political and ethnic violence which erupted in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election in Kenya in December 2007.

At the time of the vote, Ruto was deputy head of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party (ODM), led by Raila Odinga.

Maupeu lived in Kenya between 2000 and 2004 and has published several articles on a crime gang called the "Mungiki". He is the first of three expert witnesses whom the prosecution has lined up to testify in the case.

The witness described the formation of armed groups dating back to the 1980s, when Kenya was under single-party rule. He said the introduction of multi-party politics in the 1990s was accompanied by a "multiplication of groups that were armed".

"Outside the election time, you had lots of armed groups who were trying to manage the security of neighbourhoods in the rural areas," he said. "In an electoral period, they are used by politicians to become the armed wing of their candidacy. So they make the rally secure; they beat up opponents."

Maupeu told Hague judges that armed groups from the Kalenjin ethnic group received training in the Rift Valley in the run up to the 2007 election.

Referring to the sources he cited in the document he wrote for the prosecution, he said, "In these reports it's explained that Kalenjin militia groups were restructured or created in the autumn of 2007 during the [Kalenjin] initiation ceremonies, and this was linked to a new phenomenon of neo-traditionalism."

David Hooper, a member of Ruto's legal team, objected to the testimony at this point, pointing out that the witness himself had previously admitted that he was an expert on Kikuyu militia groups rather than the Kalenjin.

But presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji overruled Hooper's objection and asked the witness to continue with his evidence.

The witness did not expand on the restructuring or training of militia groups, but added later that "what I can say is there is a lack of information, but we can say that these groups were recruited and trained in farms belonging to several individuals".

He said these groups were led by local Kalenjin authority figures including civil servants, businessmen and farmers.

During his testimony, the witness described patterns of violence during previous polls in 1992, 1997 and 2002, as well as around the 2007 election.

"The political culture in Kenya is a very violent one," Maupeu said.

What distinguished the 2007 election, he continued, was the expansion of militia groups in the Rift Valley.

"One of the things that surprised researchers about the violence in 2008 was the size of the militia groups in the Rift Valley. Before 2008, the different militia groups in the region only had scores of members, but in 2008 the militia groups had thousands of members."

The witness said that in academic circles there were many theories as to the cause of the 2007-08 unrest, but that everyone agreed land ownership was the main factor.

"Undeniably, land was at the very heart of the violence in 2008," he said.

The witness said that although Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, had ruled Kenya as president from 1978 to 2002, the Kalenjin people felt they had not benefited in terms of land ownership.

According to the witness, the land issue was manipulated in the during the 2000s to create a common Kalenjin identity and remove tensions that existed among the many subgroups.

"The Kalenjin identity was forged to try to regain control of the land," the witness explained. "And the Kalenijin identity was also forged on this feeling of historical injustice - the fact that they were set aside, neglected, dismissed."

Maupeu told judges that Ruto was formally declared spokesman for the Kalenjin at a ceremony held in the Eldama Ravine area of the Rift Valley. Over a dozen members of parliament, Kalenjin leaders and even Moi's son attended the ceremony.

The witness described Ruto's rise as a politician from the beginning of his career, when he became the head of a political youth group in the early 1990s.

"It is true [Ruto] does have the reputation of being an electoral beast, so to speak; someone who is extremely good to get the vote out, to get the people," the witness said. "He is someone who knows how to run an election campaign."

Lawyers for both Ruto and Sang's defence objected to the witness's evidence, accusing him of presenting a report based on the untested opinions of other authors.

Hooper, acting for Ruto, said the witness had no knowledge of some of the events he described, and had instead relied on books.

"You may recall the opening words of this expert's testimony when he said that 'this report is not my view of the violence but the view of others'," Hooper said.

Sang's lawyer, Caroline Buisman, accused the witness of relying on hearsay.

"We know from this witness himself that his expertise in relation to the Kalenjin culture and Kalenjin customs is only based on what other people have said about it," she said. "He has no personal information, as he said himself."

Both defence counsels opposed the prosecution's efforts to have Maupeu's report admitted as evidence.

"This is not an expert who has done any fine research," Hooper said."So there are no facts that he attests to in the course of this report that are primary. Not even secondary. His is a tertiary hearsay of complaints made."

However, Lucio Garcia for the prosecution said that in the written report, the witness had explained his answers and the way he arrived at his conclusions.

"An expert's report is the witness's account or explanation of his conclusions in-depth, and I don't see why we would deprive the chamber of professional judges of that information," Garcia said.

JJ Wangui is an IWPR reporter in Nairobi. This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.

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