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Ruto: The common denominator in Kenya’s ethnic cleansing since 1992

Ruto: The common denominator in Kenya’s ethnic cleansing since 1992

By John Kamau, Editor, (

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has been the common denominator in the country’s ethnic cleansing since the 1992 first multiparty General Election.

Ruto, a Kalenjin and now running for the presidency on United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, shares the same dark history with his running mate, Mathira Member of Parliament Rigathi Gachagua.

Though a Kikuyu, Rigathi is rumoured to be former president Daniel arap Moi’s illegitimate son and this explains the reasons he found himself at the dining table with the former head of state.

Ruto’s political career began in 1992 multi-party elections when he joined the Youth for Kanu '92, a KANU lobby group consolidated to rally support and funding for then the incumbent president, Moi, who was facing a serious challenge from presidential aspirants: Kenneth Matiba (Ford-Asili), Mwai Kibaki (Democratic Party) and Jaramogi Odinga Oginga (Ford-Kenya), among others.

With the big tribes – the Kikuyu and Luo – against him - Moi had to find a way of rigging the elections to win another term.

The idea to form YK92 was hatched at Boulevard Hotel in Nairobi on January 5, 1992 when five friends – Joe Kimkung, Fred Kiptanui, Joe Mwangale, Sammy Kogo and Victor Kebenei met and proposed to have then flamboyant businessman Cyrus Jirongo as chairman.

Soon, the team ballooned to 23 individuals, most being children of the elite who did not wish to take leadership roles.

The outfit was launched on March 7, 1992 at Nyayo National Stadium by Prof George Saitoti, then Vice President.

In the group’s initial meetings, Moi’s children – Gideon, June and Jonathan – would be in attendance as the lobby hatched plans to raise money.

It is at this time that Ruto, then 24, was picked to head the secretariat having been seconded from running errands at Dr Julia Ojiambo’s Women and Youth Affairs office at KICC.

Prior to join YK92, Ruto was among the students who headed the University of Nairobi Kanu sub-branches and would occasionally organise trips to State House or Kabarnet Gardens – and during holidays they would be employed in either Kanu headquarters or in various parastatals.

Gachagua also used to head one such outfit and was best known for organising university trips through then Mathira MP Davidson Kuguru or through the Vice Chancellor, Prof Philip Mbithi.

In the 1992 elections, the YK92 was accused of being complicit in ethnic violence directed at Kikuyus and other non-indigenous communities in southern and central Rift Valley under the guise of Majimbo (federalism).

The YK'92 also promised opportunities for unemployed youth and marginalised groups to counter the growing militancy against Kanu's rule.

The lobby splashed cash to the extent the Sh500 note dished out during campaigns came to be known as the "Jirongo," after the group's leader.

The YK group zoned Kanu strongholds, mobilised support in opposition areas and capitalised on defections to give the impression more people were trooping to Moi's corner.

In the 1992 ethnic cleansing where Ruto at the behest of Moi organised and funded Kalenjin warriors, over 5,000 people were killed and another 75,000 displaced in Rift Valley, with the town of Molo being an epicentre of the violence.

The well funded Kalenjin warriors hounded out Kikuyus from their homes, killing men and raping women.  

In Eldoret alone, over 1,500 Kikuyu or 'non-indigenous' people were slaughtered by Kalenjin warriors who were armed with pangas, bows and arrows.

The victims were hunted down like animals with bows and arrows in the woodland and farms around Nakuru, with their 'crime' being voting for the opposition parties against Moi's Kanu.

Despite the massive killings, the Moi government made no arrests or proper inquiries to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The purpose was to evict the Kikuyus and other ‘non indigenous communities’ to leave their land to Kalenjins.

The Kalenjins are a collection of small ethnic groups - Kipsigis, Nandi, Sabaot, Tugen, Elgeyo, Marakwet and Pokot - amalgamated into one ethnic identity largely for political mobilisation purposes.

Prior to the 1992 killings, on October 29, 1991, ethnic clashes had erupted at Meteitei farm in Tinderet, Nandi, on the border of Rift Valley, Nyanza, and Western regions.

This is after Kalenjin warriors attacked the Luo community in an incident triggered by a land dispute.

But the fighting escalated within days with the victims claiming the Kalenjin attackers intended to expel non-Kalenjins and political opponents from the Rift Valley region.

After the 1992 polls, the Moi government, with Ruto being a powerful official of YK 92 credited for Moi’s win, frustrated efforts to bring to justice perpetrators of the violence.

The Government even harassed Prof Wangari Maathai who had formed the Tribal Clashes Resettlement Volunteer Service (TCRVS) to initiate a resettlement programme and reconciliation seminar for clash victims.

The violence continued unabated throughout 1993 with Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma and Nakuru counties being the most affected.

The opposition led by Matiba and Kibaki even called for deployment of international peace keepers in hot spots such as Molo, Londiani and Burnt Forest but the call was unheeded.

Hundreds of Kalenjin warriors continued to attack and occupy farms belonging to Kikuyus, Luhyas, or Luos without being arrested or charged for their actions.

Come 1996 and the Nakuru Catholic Bishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki raised the red flag when he warned of the possibility of witnessing fresh clashes in Molo area.

He claimed the locals had reported to him that bands of marauding Kalenjin youths were cited re-grouping in the forests of Molo.

Prior to the 1997 polls, leaflets were circulated in Likia, Molo district, warning Kikuyus and other non-indigenous communities to leave the area.

In May 1997 alone, 162 people were displaced after five people, including two children, were killed and 15 houses burnt down in nearby Kuresoi.
The period before 1997 general election was also marred by harassment, intimidation and violence in parts of Rift Valley.

Matters worsened after the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) declared Moi the presidential winner on January 4, 1998 while the results from nine constituencies were yet to be tallied.

Two days before the commission's announcement presidential candidates Mwai Kibaki (DP), Raila Odinga (National Development Party) and Charity Ngilu (Social Democratic Party) had rejected the results and demanded a repeat of the elections within 21 days.

 But on 6 January, 1998, Moi was sworn in with the tension further heightening when Kibaki filed a petition against his re-election.

But at a public rally in Narok town on 17 January, ministers Kipkalia Kones and William ole Ntimama (both deceased) sounded the drum war when they warned of violence if Kibaki did not abandon his election petition.

True to their words, violence erupted in several parts in Rift Valley a few days after their outburst.

But following the 2005 referendum where the Banana side that was led by incumbent president, Kibaki, lost to Raila’s Orange movement, the seeds of violence were replanted in Rift Valley, with Ruto playing a big role.

Ruto, who teamed up with Raila in the Orange movement, backed the ODM leader for presidency with an aim of using his win to evict the Kikuyus and other communities from Rift Valley.

In the 2007 presidential campaign rallies, Ruto openly called for the removal of Madoa doa from Rift Valley, in reference to Kikuyu settlers.    

In the 2007 December's election that saw incumbent Kibaki, who belonged to the Kikuyu tribe, defeat Raila Odinga, a Luo, in a contest that opposition supporters said was rigged, Ruto set in motion plans for the Kalenjin warriors to evict Kikuyus from Rift Valley.

Indeed, during Ruto’s trial at the International Criminal Court, a prosecution witness narrated how members of the Nandi community had prepared stocks of weapons ahead of the 2007 elections that sparked months of violence.

The witness told the judges that three days before the polls, a Nandi man in the Yamumbi area showed him a collection of bows and arrows intended for use after the results were announced.

Some of the arrows had been imported from as far as South Korea.

The witness revealed that the bows and arrows that were used in the 2008 post-election violence were assembled at the Kapseret Forest by Nandi youths.

The witness told the court police guarded lorries used to transport cattle stolen from Kikuyu and the weapons used to arm Kalenjin youths were transported to the area in ten lorries.

He told the judges that the vehicles belonged to Ruto’s aide, Reuben Maiyo who also provided accommodation for the Kalenjin youths who attacked and burned houses.

He added that before the election, Ruto held a rally in Kapseret Forest in preparation for taking up arms where he gave money to the young people.

The climax of the violence was the burning of women, children and the disabled at a church in Kiambaa, Uasin Gishu.

In the attack, marauding Kalenjin warriors set ablaze the church where people were taking refuge, burning 36 people beyond recognition.

The thousands of Kalenjin warriors had surged towards the church, chanting pro-Ruto and Raila slogans, their faces disguised with white clay, many wearing cloths and bandanas.

They were armed with traditional weapons, machetes, axes and sticks.

Ruto was at the time a member of the ODM, led by Raila who later became prime minister in the unity government that followed the violence.

Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang had been charged with crimes against humanity charges at ICC.

The case collapsed largely due to witness interference.


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