Monday, November 15, 2010

William Ruto's fool's errand

It has been argued before that Eldoret North MP William Ruto is a gunslinger. He plays to win. Ruthless, cunning, and charismatic, the precocious legislator has the ego of an ostrich and the courage of a lion. Opponents underestimate him at their own peril.

But, for the first time in his meteoric political career, Mr Ruto faces extinction.

His legal troubles are legion. Multiple Kenyan courts are baying for his blood. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the dreaded crusader at the International Criminal Court, is methodically closing in on him. Mr Ruto, the David who slew former President Daniel arap Moi, the Goliath of the Rift Valley, is on the ropes. That’s why he ran to Mr Moreno-Ocampo at The Hague. I have four theories why Mr Ruto took himself to the lion’s den at The Hague:

The first, and to lawyers the most obvious, is that Mr Ruto must believe that he is in serious legal jeopardy. No defence lawyer worth his salt would advise his client to “volunteer” evidence to a prosecutor unless he knew the gravity of the case. Forget all the nonsense about the ground rules under which Mr Ruto “spoke with” ICC prosecutors and investigators. Legally, Mr Ruto stood to gain nothing – zero – by meeting with the ICC. In contrast, Mr Ruto’s visit must have been a bonanza for the ICC. Mr Ruto should fire the lawyers for giving him such deadly advice.

Here’s the rub. The ICC had all the advantages over Mr Ruto.

The cold and alien Dutch city must have been discomfiting to him. The ICC building, with its multiple layers of security, must have been intimidating. Add to these a battery of prosecutors and investigators whose job is to build a case against him. It’s true that Mr Ruto’s lead counsel, Dr Kithure Kindiki, is an able lawyer. Even so, Dr Kindiki and Mr Katwa Kigen, his assisting counsel, must have felt outmanned and outgunned. Besides, neither Mr Ruto, nor his lawyers, knows what evidence Mr Moreno-Ocampo has against him. I imagine that ICC officials must have been raining blow after blow on Mr Ruto.

My second theory is that Mr Ruto sought to implicate others, most notably President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, in the post-election atrocities. If so, this is a bizarre and fruitless legal strategy. I suppose Mr Ruto sang like a canary before Mr Moreno-Ocampo. But I seriously doubt that Mr Ruto would tell Mr Moreno-Ocampo anything that he does not already know about the two principals. This would make him a perpetrator-witness subject to indictment. He could strike a plea bargain for ratting others out, but only after indictment. But this would not spare him jail time if found guilty.

My third theory is that Mr Ruto wanted to spook his political opponents at home and the ICC officials by seizing the initiative. He wanted to catch his political enemies and the ICC flat-footed. Again, this is a mistaken strategy. The ICC process is not a political charade. The ICC cannot be spooked by a target.
If anything, Mr Ruto gave the ICC, and by extension Kenyans and all observers at large, invaluable information just by showing up. ICC officials were able to study him up close and personal, dissecting his every move, demeanour, credibility, and language. They now know more about him than he does of them. It’s puerile for Mr Ruto to try and spook his opponents at home. The case will be decided at The Hague, not Kenya.

My fourth and last theory is that Mr Ruto sought to portray himself as a conquering hero who is being persecuted. This plays to the gallery at home, especially in his Rift Valley backyard. This has won him sympathy in certain quarters. It’s a kind of a daredevil mentality.

But it also smacks of desperation. Mr Ruto may believe that the ICC guillotine is about to fall on him. If so, why not fire the first shot? By voluntarily showing up, he hopes to avoid an arrest if indicted.

But he may also know that the two principals will gladly hand him over to the ICC if he is indicted. Why not take matters into his own hands? We can be sure of one thing: those being sought by the ICC will be very keen to learn as much as possible about Mr Ruto’s (mis)adventure at The Hague. To them, the most valuable lawyers in the country now are Dr Kindiki and Mr Kigen. The possible targets will want to know whether Mr Ruto’s visit to the ICC was helpful to his case.

It is on the basis of this information that they will decide whether to follow suit, and voluntarily visit The Hague. My crystal ball tells me that it’s unlikely they will do so. Not unless they can see clear, demonstrable benefits for Mr Ruto’s sojourn. Of course we don’t know whether or not Mr Ruto will be indicted, much less what an ICC verdict would be. But we know this: by going to The Hague, and appearing to cut a deal for himself, Mr Ruto has irrevocably severed certain political bridges. His future in ODM is virtually over. His divorce with Mr Odinga is all but final. So perhaps are any links he may have nurtured with PNU. From now on, the country will have a “Ruto political death-watch” – meaning whether or when the ICC will indict him.

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