I owe credit to my friend Macharia Nduati for the following anecdote which I think perfectly addresses the situation of William Samoei Ruto in respect of the upcoming trials at The Hague over the 2008 post-election violence.

A husband invited a very prominent couple to their home for tea with the hope of elevating the social standing of his family. When the couple arrived, they came bearing a delicious fruit cake for the lady of the house. The host lady took the cake and served them tea.

The host lady was, however, pretty intimidated by the visiting guests and was suddenly struck by a fit of verbal diarrhoea. She started asking unintelligent questions and making irrelevant comments about the cake. Her guests sat back, unable to start on the tea while their host twaddled for fear of appearing rude. When the husband realised his wife wasn’t going to stop talking, he reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder and, giving her a small jolt, told her: “Honey, eat the cake please”.

When Mr. Ruto came back to the country after his appointment with investigators at the International Criminal Court, he unleashed a flurry of accusations against people he said were spreading falsehoods against him. He accused the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights of recruiting, coaching and giving money to witnesses to implicate him in the 2008 violence.

The famous painter Pablo Picasso once said: “Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility”. Mr. Ruto has become a victim of his own success.


At the young age of 44, Mr Ruto has become a modernage Tom Mboya. Ambitious, aggressive and intelligent, he has raised himself by his boot straps and become a critical player in Kenya’s politics.

From his days as a member of Youth for Kanu 92, he has survived through a changing political system and managed to better his political teachers in the art of survival. By 2008, he had overthrown former President Moi as the king of Rift Valley and in a couple years destroyed the political dynasty that had taken Moi more than 50 years to build.

But when the challenge of the post-election violence faced him, he began to make all the wrong decisions. First, he took the position that the Kenyan case will never make the threshold set by the Rome Statute for admission to the International Criminal Court. But the Kenyan case had other dynamics.

As at 2008, the ICC had already finalised its investigations in the most critical situations of abuse of human rights in the world. They had begun investigations on Darfur but that was proving to be a challenge as they couldn’t go to the ground and investigate. When summons were issued against two suspects in February 2007, the Sudanese government dismissed the jurisdiction of the ICC and ignored an extradition request sent from The Hague.

The only other case available was the Myanmar crisis. But Myanmar was too big a fish for the ICC to fry as China and Russia had vetoed an attempt by the United States at the Security Council to impose sanctions on the country. India was also in support of China and Russia on the Myanmar issue.

The Kenyan crisis was a God-send for the ICC. Its continued relevance threatened, and there being no other immediate case to keep the court and its prosecutors fully occupied, the ICC was never going to let the Kenya case slip through technical legal cracks that would oust the jurisdiction of the ICC. Mr. Ruto did not see that angle.

Second, when the idea of forming a local tribunal was floated, Mr Ruto miscalculated again. According to Mr Ruto, the local tribunal would not address the root cause of the violence and could, in fact, re-ignite ethnic clashes.

Local tribunal

As it has turned out, Mr. Ruto should have supported Prime Minister Raila Odinga on the issue. A local tribunal would have handled its cases in Kenya and, with the new Constitution providing that every accused person is entitled to bail, all the accused persons would roam free while their cases were going on. The reality that Mr Ruto faces now is that if he is charged, he may be denied bail at the ICC. That could see him detained at The Hague for a very long time.

Mr. Ruto’s third mistake was his confidence that the Kenya case at The Hague would take a long time to investigate. He publicly said that it would take over 90 years for the cases to be investigated and quipped: “I doubt any of us here will be alive by then”.

For Mr. Ruto to challenge the court publicly on this issue, he was actually giving the court an impetus to hasten investigations and prove its efficacy. In fact, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, promised to make the Kenya case an example to the rest of the world.

Looking back, therefore, Mr. Ruto has been his own worst enemy. He has increasingly compromised his interests by over-relying on his reading of events. As Pablo Picasso warned, he has copied himself.

Paul Mwangi is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya