Raila Odinga's offer to testify for William Ruto at International Criminal Court raises eye brows

The uncertainty triggered in the governing Jubilee Coalition and opposition after CORD leader Raila Odinga 'agreed' to testify at the International Criminal Court in the case involving Deputy President William Ruto, looks set to persist after the latter insisted the former Prime Minister hands over whatever evidence he has to the defence lawyers.

The Deputy President has taken exception to Raila's statement that he was ready to defend his party at the ICC, which the United Republican Party (URP) leader construes as implying that he (Raila) is not keen on defending his former ally in the ODM before he jumped ship.

Ruto was indicted by ICC for crimes against humanity when he was a member of ODM, where he was deputy leader.

The confusion has further been heightened by partisan interests on either side as each scours for an opportunity to score political points in preparation for the next presidential election, which is three years away.

Whether Ruto was serious in demanding Raila stands by him or whether Raila was sincere in his offer to the defence witness stand, is a matter the two sides are coy to emphatically talk about, but are content to fence around the issue that is politically explosive, according to ODM Deputy Minority Leader in the National Assembly, Jakoyo Midiwo.

However, the two sides find convergence in the opinion that the DP and former PM are preparing for the next presidential election in which both are potential candidates and, therefore, are pitching for support 'using' each other.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, kicked off the storm in December when he told The Standard on Saturday that Raila betrayed Ruto by abandoning him at the "hour of need."

Murkomen challenged the CORD leader to make sacrifices for Ruto in reciprocation for the material and political 'sacrifices' the DP made in the countdown to the disputed 2007 presidential poll, which precipitated the crimes against humanity he is accused of committing.

In the wake of Raila's offer to testify, the Deputy President's Director of Communication Emmanuel Tallam, says it would be prudent for the former PM to follow up his word with demonstrable deeds.

"It is not ODM that is on trial at the ICC; it is the Deputy President. Raila must be specific about what evidence he wants to give. Any information will be subjected to scrutiny by the defence counsel and if they find that it will firm up Ruto's case, he will be invited to take to the witnesses stand," says Tallam.

There are questions though whether Raila's offer to testify is a political gimmick, coming at the tail-end of prosecution evidence.

Njonjo Mue, a human rights lawyer with the International Central for Transitional Justice clarifies that the defence can still get testimony from Raila as long as they petition the court.

"The prosecution and defence can request leave of the court to bring on board an important witness. However, the debate currently is largely political. You cannot spend five years to decide whether to call Raila as a witness," Mue argues.

The lawyer is skeptical that Raila and Ruto are genuine. He observes that Ruto allies led by Murkomen, and Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki have challenged the CORD leader to come clean on allegation that he 'fixed' the DP.

"They wanted to trap him (Raila) as the case is coming to an end. Most of the people who have testified against Ruto were PNU supporters. It is possible they (Ruto allies) are trying to set up Raila as their bogey man," Mue reckons.

Ruto has reacted to Raila's offer with indifference, a significant shift from his previous harsh criticism of the former PM and ICC. Notably, the indifference is restricted to the DP's inner circle.

On Tuesday, a group of Kalenjin elders in Rift Valley where Ruto draws massive support, welcomed Raila's gesture and encouraged the DP to engage his political nemesis. It is the same line of argument being pursued by some MPs from the region. Chesumei MP Elijah Lang'at, says the burden of coming clean in the raging controversy lies with the DP and former PM.

"If Raila means business, let him go and testify at the ICC. Ruto was his strongest campaigner in the 2007 polls, a favour that deserves another good turn. If he testifies, he will have dispelled perceptions that he wanted to use Ruto to ascend to power and then dump him," explains Lang'at.

The MP disagrees with Midiwo about the DP possible disgruntlement in Jubilee Coalition, which last month, transformed into a new political outfit with 'least participation' of Ruto's URP members.

"Ruto ignored three important potential witnesses after he left ODM. Other than Raila, the late Otieno Kajwang' and I, were always with Ruto. When the ICC cases came up, we told him that we should stick together. Henry Kosgey listened to us. Ruto chose to ignore. He thought he could get justice by turning against him. We are now at a point when regret is setting in. We pray the court finds him innocent," says Midiwo, the Gem MP.

Five years on, the two are doing what Midiwo says should have been done before former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made public the names of the six people he deemed bore the greatest responsibility in the crimes against humanity in 2007-2008 post-election violence.

The violence claimed 1,133 lives and displaced more than half-a-million others from their homes following the disputed 2007 presidential poll outcome.

When TNA tirade against ICC hit decibel levels, senior lawyer Paul Mwangi, expressed concern over the 'carelessness' abandon with which Jubilee was issuing statements. On his facebook post, Mwangi who serves as ODM legal advisor wondered: "Is it advisable for the Kenya government to be insulting the ICC while the Deputy President's case is still pending there? Were the interests of the Deputy President considered before these antagonistic statements were made?

Asked to clarify his statement, Mwangi cites instances in President Uhuru Kenyatta's case;  which has since been terminated, when the prosecution referred to political statements his allies were making to question the Kenya government seriousness in cooperating with the international court.

"Whether it (statements) will make the defence better or worse, is for the court to decide. But there is a possibility it would make it worse. ICC picks up statements made outside the court and uses them against the accused," says Mwangi.

Whatever the outcome of Ruto's trial, Midiwo concedes politics is at play in the see-saw relations between the DP and the CORD leader. The MP points out that virtually all the prosecution witnesses who have testified against Ruto were supporters of former President Kibaki's PNU.