On the evening of February 12, 2009, MPs Lewis Nguyai, Isaac Ruto and Ekwe Ethuro burst into celebration.
The same day, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga walked out of Parliament crestfallen.
The trio were among 93 MPs who humbled the two coalition principals when they voted to reject a Bill proposing the formation of a special tribunal to try those suspected to have organised the post-election violence of 2007/8. (READ: Kenya MPs vote against local tribunal)
This effectively paved the way for the criminal proceedings at The Hague-based International Criminal Court involving eminent Kenyans – including Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto. (READ: Annan to send Kenya violence chiefs to The Hague)
But in a dramatic turn, the group that supported the trials at The Hague has embraced the two accused, emerging as their most vocal supporters in and outside Parliament.
Probably unexplored is the inconvenient fact that the MPs who are posing as their comrades-in-arms by turning up in large numbers at their rallies and spewing rage at the ICC proceedings are members of the very cast that ensured the suspects will stand trial at The Hague. (DOWNLOADS: MPs who voted against the Bill and MPs who voted for the Bill)
The narrative of the meetings has been the push for a unity pact to stop Prime Minister Raila Odinga from succeeding President Kibaki.
In doing so, the accused have resorted to hyperbole and hysteria into which their respective communities have been drawn.
Cry for victims
Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo has been critical of the “prayer” rallies, saying the focus should be on victims, not the accused.
He says: “I see preachers in rallies praying for the accused, but who will speak for the voiceless? Don’t the victims deserve prayers, too? We must not forget the victims of the post-election violence.”
Mr Nguyai – and indeed most of the naysayers – must rue the statements they made in their campaign for the trials to be held in The Hague.
On February 4, 2009, the Kikuyu MP declared that The Hague option was the “only way” to end the culture of impunity in Kenya and ensure that justice was done. (READ: House still divided over tribunal Bills)
He argued that a local tribunal had no capacity to prosecute the violence suspects.
Mr Ethuro was critical of a letter by Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura lobbying MPs to attend Parliament and vote in support of the tribunal Bill.
He was categorical that the high-profile lobbying would not deter MPs from voting for The Hague option.
In a somewhat cruel twist of fate, the same Mr Muthaura would more than two years later be indicted by the ICC, dealing a body blow to his otherwise acclaimed career in the public service.
“We have also to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. and we will have an opportunity very shortly to demonstrate our determination and will against the Bill,” said Mr Ethuro ahead of the crucial vote as President Kibaki and Mr Odinga sat a few metres away.
Today, Mr Ethuro (Turkana Central) is a senior member of Mr William Ruto’s United Republican Party.
A review of the Hansard recordings during the tribunal debate reveals that a majority of Kalenjin MPs known to be close to Mr Ruto voted for The Hague option.
Mr Ruto’s allies who voted to reject a local tribunal include Zakayo Cheruiyot (Kuresoi), Cyrus Jirongo (Lugari), Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu), Fred Kapondi (Mt Elgon), Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Wilfred Machage (Kuria), Sammy Mwaita (Baringo Central), Kazungu Kambi (Kaloleni) and Moses Lessonet (Eldama Ravine).
Mr Ruto of Chepalungu is often reminded about his much-quoted declaration: “Let us not be vague, it is The Hague.”
In addition, the majority of the Kalenjin and Kamba MPs allied to Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka supported The Hague option.
And, although Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto voted with the government, their troops were sufficiently mobilised to reject the tribunal.
Those in the Kenyatta camp who supported The Hague option are Ferdinand Waititu (Embakasi), Jamleck Kamau (Kigumo), Emilio Kathuri (Manyatta), Joseph Kiuna (Molo), Lenny Kivuti (Siakago), Abdi Nuh (Bura), Peter Mwathi (Limuru) and Clement Wambugu (Mathioya).
Because it strikes at the heart of the Kibaki succession, the ICC debate has been characterised by the most dramatic of somersaults by the politicians – negative tribal sentiment, doublespeak, mudslinging and breathtaking hypocrisy – exposing the repulsive side of the Kenyan politician. It has also “united” strange bedfellows.
Events after the 2007 General Election revealed that there is no love lost between members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities who wielded machetes against each other in the Rift Valley.
Now the ICC twin cases have united their leaders even as their supporters remain apprehensive about their new-found friendship.
But, even then, mistrust between the communities and supporters persists with each insisting that they will back their own for State House.
This was evident during the Eldoret rally where the crowd was split into two, one side cheering Mr Kenyatta while the other celebrated Mr Ruto in his hometown.
But why the sudden change of heart over the ICC proceedings? It is noteworthy that although ICC had not yet linked Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to the violence, reports by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights had already named the two. This report had been transmitted to ICC.
The Waki Commission, which had identified high-profile individuals suspected to bear the greatest responsibility for the violence, had insisted that they must be tried, either by a special court at home or by the ICC.
While Mr Ruto called into question the credibility of the report by the Waki Commission, Mr Kenyatta was more defensive and strident in trashing the findings.
Mr Ruto had also declared that ICC would take one hundred years to conclude the matter.
To the contrary, the Kenyan case has been defined by its fast pace with indictments issued less than two years after the start of investigations.
A leaked diplomatic cable on a conversation between then US embassy officials with Kinangop MP David Ngugi captures the thinking at that time. The vote was an act of self-preservation.
The November 4, 2008 cable said leaders from central Kenya had agreed that the Waki report should be implemented, but that it must be handled cautiously because of the inflammatory nature of the charges likely to be levelled against Kikuyu leaders.
“Many Kikuyus feel that Kikuyu leaders implicated in post-election violence were engaging in self-defence and should not be equated with Rift Valley organisers, who engaged in unprovoked violence,” said the cable.
On the other hand, ODM politicians held that The Hague process would not only take years but would also spare actual perpetrators of the violence, especially in Naivasha, and police who are alleged to have killed civilians in Kibera and Kisumu.
Then there is the small matter of Mr Odinga. It is understood that PNU politicians, in supporting The Hague, were convinced that having inspired mass action during the violence, his name could appear in the Waki envelope.
Mr Odinga and his handlers have not been effective in fighting deeprooted propaganda that he engineered The Hague proceedings to eliminate his opponents from the presidential race.
“I am not Judge Philip Waki or Kofi Annan,” he told the Sunday Nation in reference to the judge whose team identified the ICC suspects and the former UN secretary-general who handed over the names to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
After the prosecutor made the names public, Mr Isaac Ruto led MPs allied to Mr Kenyatta and the Eldoret North MP in a parliamentary effort which saw them secure a vote for Kenya to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
But Mr Odinga criticised MPs who were pushing for Kenya’s withdrawal from the Statute, saying they were the very ones who frustrated the government’s efforts to set up a local tribunal.
“Mr Ruto (Isaac) said that we should not be vague, we want The Hague; it is Ruto who took us to The Hague, Mr Speaker,” Mr Odinga said during debate.
But in a dramatic about-turn, the MP argued that Kenya did have the legal capacity to try the suspects.