Ken Wafula is a diminutive man. But he says he is fearless to a fault and speaks his mind loudly, even in the face of danger.
The father of three and husband to Miriam Njoki certainly did not think much about his own life when he became one of the most vocal voices in support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) trials.
Sample this: Mr Wafula and his family live in Eldoret. It was one of the hotspots of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, which broke out after a hotly contested and bitterly disputed presidential election. When most people preferred to speak in low tones about the killings that followed, Mr Wafula chose to speak from the roof tops.
For his loud crusade against political violence and firm stand that the perpetrators must be found and punished at the ICC, he has had many brushes with death. Thirteen times, to his recollection, has he been threatened. Yet he wouldn’t change course.
But he stunned friend and foe recently when he followed Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria’s cue that witnesses against Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang, in their ICC cases, had been paid and coached.
“Recently, I came out and made a statement that many people believe was a change of tune. I said that if indeed there were people who claim they procured, coached, and bribed witnesses to testify against the deputy president, then, as a human rights activist who once participated in protecting witnesses, especially at the Waki (commission of inquiry) level, I said the deputy president and Mr Sang’ should be set free,” Mr Wafula told Lifestyle.
He added: “There was a lot of misconception, I received thousands of calls from inside and outside the country with mixed reactions but I still maintain the same stand that the two are innocent.”
Mr Wafula spoke after Mr Kuria said he was aware and willing to testify that witnesses were coached to testify against Mr Ruto at the commission on the electoral violence chaired by Justice Phillip Waki.
“Everyone thought that I fixed Ruto and Sang. Now that Kuria had come out, the truth could finally be known,” said Mr Wafula.
Mr Wafula said he was doing many things behind the scenes to help Mr Ruto and Mr Sang’ get acquitted.
“I’m currently planning to petition the Assembly of State Parties over the same. At the same time, I am writing a letter to the United Nations Security Council, and also engaging the ICC internally through my own avenues,” he said.
Of the political affront against the ICC, he said: “I have an analogy that I have used before that if a village elder has received a complaint from one of the residents that a certain person stole his chicken and the village elder now begins formally to address the issue because that is some sort of a kangaroo court, and then one of the parties to the case starts insulting the village elder, the village elder is likely to enter into an irrational decision based on emotional anger.”
The ICC judges, he reasoned, are human beings with emotions and are likely to give an irrational decision if provoked.
“I am one of those trying to help the deputy president get out of this; I think I have the magic that will remove him, and I know what I am doing,” he said.
This was a dramatic U-turn for a man who had been supporting the prosecution of those that The Hague-based court says bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed.
“I have been threatened 13 times and reported all the cases to the police but no action has ever been taken because the police feel intimidated as they think it’s the State’s plan to eliminate me, and so they can’t stand in the State’s way. But I remain unbowed,” Mr Wafula said.
His first brush with death came long before he became an activist. It was back in 1992 and he was in Form Two at Arnesen’s High School in Burnt Forest. It was an election year and pockets of violence had broken out. Their family house was burnt down and they were displaced.
“I had to scavenge for food in Eldoret town before we were taken in by the Red Cross,” said Mr Wafula. “After three months, the rest of the family relocated to Western Kenya but I stayed on and rejoined school with the help of (Eldoret Catholic) Bishop Korir.”
Trouble was not too far away, though. He would later be expelled for what he calls “student politics” and he completed his secondary education at St Columbus High School in Nakuru.
The teenage experiences of political and land-related violence shaped the thinking of the man who would later become an almost lone voice calling for justice.
Driven by his past, he was prepared to withstand hostility; abhorring violence — supported by his wife who, he says, is a prayerful woman.
“I even fear my own courage. You sometimes do or say things and wonder what will happen? But I do not say things that I’m not sure of,” he said.
He added: “I get my strength from my wife. She’s prayerful and a leader in her church. She fasts a lot for our security. She has played her role.”
Because of his fearless pronouncements, it was alleged that he was under the protection of America’s Central Intelligence Agency operatives. He told Lifestyle it was a myth which he never denied since it worked in his favour.
“Because of my stand on ICC issues, local politicians have always been hostile to me and connected me to the author of the deputy president’s problems. That is a perception that is far from the truth. I was once attacked by Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi and his bodyguards over the same issue and today I have a paralysed finger. I have since forgiven them,” he alleged.
In a press conference three days after the August 2014 incident, Mr Sudi denied assaulting Mr Wafula but confirmed that they were at the same venue that evening.
“There were several other people in the club that evening and they can record statements. I neither touched Mr Wafula nor rebuked him on the claims he is telling the media,” Mr Sudi said. “In fact, Mr Wafula fell and a beer bottle he was holding cut his hand, thus the bandage on the hand. It was clear and everyone saw it.”
Mr Sudi also denied linking Mr Wafula to Mr Ruto’s cases at the ICC.
This week, Mr Wafula said he was branded by his tormentors an enemy of the Kalenjin people.
“I have been attacked three or four times near my house. I have reported two incidents to Kapsoya Police Station. I have reported three others to Eldoret Police Station. In 2011, they broke into my office and took away my laptop. Police have never acted and, at one time, I decided it was no longer useful to report cases to them,” he said.
He explained he was linked to the ICC case almost by chance.
When violence broke out, he is one of the people who took foreign journalists around, guiding them to where the victims were.
“As I did this, I documented many things which I thought would be of importance in the future,” he said.
He then applied for funding from Ashoka, a global network of social entrepreneurs, to “launch peace building initiatives to supplement what the government and other non-governmental organisations were doing”.
He had worked with the organisation previously when he started campaigning against female genital mutilation in 2000. He became an Ashoka fellow in 2002. There are about 32 fellows in Kenya.
“In February 2008, after getting expansive coverage from a section of the international media, I wrote to Ashoka Fellowship to see if they could help me start peace building initiatives. They responded well and funds were raised for me to start the activities,” he said.
He said that in May 2008, he successfully brought together a number of Kikuyus and Kalenjins in Burnt Forest, a violence hotspot.
“This was a major breakthrough because the provincial administration had tried to do this three times before but failed. My first attempt made me bring the then conflicting communities together and we received funding twice from Ashoka,” said Mr Wafula.
“I earned a lot of international recognition, with various ambassadors even paying courtesy calls to my office and visiting my peace initiatives in the region,” he said.
Mr Wafula said he was not informed, nor involved, in the investigations by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch.
“When the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights was doing its investigations on the post-election violence, led by Maina Kiai and Hassan Omar, they did not involve me because we had some ideological differences at the civil society level, with myself leading the so-called rural based human rights groups that are ideologically opposed to Nairobi-based groups. There was a cold war among these groups. I was seen as the ideological leader of those in the rural areas and so I did not involve myself in their investigations,” he explained.
He also told Lifestyle that he was not involved in any way in the Waki Commission inquiries since he was “busy with peace-building initiatives”.
“I never engaged in mobilisation or procurement of witnesses to appear before the KNCHR, the Waki or even the Kriegler commissions. I only became active on issues to do with witnesses after the Waki report was out. That’s when some fellows walked into my office claiming that they had appeared before the Waki Commission and that their names had leaked out and their lives were in danger. They wanted my intervention,” he said.
He explained the alleged witnesses had claimed that they were being tracked and had been receiving calls from anonymous people. They suspected that people or organisations they sought help from had leaked the information.
“So they lost confidence in the protection system up there and they wanted a local intervention by my organisation, which I gave,” said Mr Wafula.
He then wrote a proposal to USAid because he felt their lives were in danger. “USAid accepted and funded me to the tune of Sh1.3 million, which was supposed to cater for about seven witnesses for three months. The money was basically supposed to cater for their alternative shelter and school fees for their children during the time they were to be away,” said Mr Wafula.
“This is the money that has always been misconceived as bribery of witnesses,” he said.
Later, he said, Nairobi-based human rights groups came to the scene. “They took all the witnesses to Nairobi one night and that became the end of me in terms of witness protection. But I remained vocal on the rights of victims of post-election violence. I continued with sensitisation programmes and developed a very strong belief in the international judiciary system,” he said.
According to Mr Wafula, Kenya should not withdraw from the Rome Statute as that would be tragic.
“One thing about me is that I don’t say anything I don’t know,” said Mr Wafula.
But why the U-turn? He said his stand on the innocence of Mr Ruto and Mr Sang was informed by what the witnesses he helped told him.
“The investigations were a sham and I remember complaining about them in 2011. I told the investigators that what they were doing was not up to standard because they were leaving out the real people who would have connected them to the real witnesses,” he said, adding that there was infighting among civil society groups and NGOs, which “contaminated” the investigations.
He said he took long to speak out because he had long worked with victims, and that people had come to believe he was the one who fixed Ruto and Sang — that is, until Mr Kuria spoke out.
But wasn’t he induced to change his position?
“Induced? Ken Wafula? No. I have a history of independent mindedness. Even during the Nyayo era, I had a human rights group and would speak out strongly. Powerful people in Kanu approached me back then when I had nothing and offered me money. I declined. Why would I want to do that now? I have never even met Ruto. I want the real victims to find justice when the real perpetrators are punished.”