FORMER Higher Education minister William Ruto told the American government that the Kiambaa church was the result of an accidental fire, according to the latest Wikileaks cable to be released.
Ruto was meeting ambassador William Ranneberger, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson and National Security Council director Michelle Gavin on May 12, 2009, almost 17 months later.
The Waki Commission report stated in 2009 that "the incident which captured the attention of both Kenyans and the world was the deliberate burning alive of mostly Kikuyu women and children huddled together in a church in Kiambaa on 1 January 2008. They had sought refuge in the church following a 30 December attack on their village of Kimuri, bordering Kiambaa. According to reports, including witness testimony, mattresses and blankets were set ablaze with petrol and thrown into the building while mothers and babies who were trying to flee the inferno were pushed back into the church. Kikuyu men attempting to defend their church and loved ones were hacked to death with machetes, shot with arrows, or pursued and killed. The death toll for this horrific incident was 17 burned alive in the church, 11 dying in or on the way to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, and 54 others injured who were treated and discharged." "Ruto expressed frustration with the media, which he felt had blamed members of his Kalenjin group for locking and burning down a church full of asylum seekers in Eldoret during last yeatr's election violence," states the cable. "Ruto emphasised that his people had done no such thing. According to Ruto, the cause of the incident was an accidental kitchen fire during preparations for lunch".
Gavin then reminded Ruto that a Special Tribunal to investigate post-election violence would allow the truth to "come out and be clarified". Ruto however appeared ambivalent about the tribunal despite Ranneberger telling "Ruto that his leadership towards a consensus on setting up a tribunal inside Kenya is critical". "The Waki report (which proposed the local tribunal) was "rubbish" and "unfairly incriminating", he said. Ruto explained that he voted (in Parliament) in favour of the Special Tribunal for the sake of the country but he was not sure whether the ICC or a local tribunal was the way to go," the cable states.
In December, Ruto became one of the six Kenyan leaders that International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says he wants to prosecute for crimes against humanity during the post-election violence. "Both Senior Director Gavin and Ambassador Ranneberger discouraged Kenya from going to the ICC, which would simply indicate to the world that Kenya cannot handle its own problems", the cable states.
Two days after the meeting on May 14, ODM leaders including Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the then Agriculture minister William Ruto boycotted the funeral of the Kiambaa victims which was billed as a reconciliation gesture between the communities of the Rift Valley. The funeral was attended by the President Kibaki and other PNU officials. Fourteen of those buried in the church compound died in the fire while another 22 bodies were collected around the area and were not identified or claimed.
The ODM boycotted the burial because of plans by the government to build a memorial at the church and the decision to bury victims of the violence who did not die at the Kiambaa church. The ODM felt that attending the burial might endorse claims that they were the aggressors and PNU the victims.
Gavin and Carson told Ruto that "President Obama was deeply concerned by the political gridlock in Kenya." "Ruto said he appreciated US concerns about Kenya's future. He believed however that responsibility for Kenya's stability belonged first and foremost to the country itself".
He said the reform process was well underway and that "the safest way to go on both police and judicial reform was through a new constitution".
He said "Kenya won't return to violence because it is a "lot wiser". The power sharing issues currently at stake will not bring about resurgence of violence". "The real problem between now and 2012was how to deal with the youth," said Ruto. "Citing the rise of the Mungiki gang, Ruto explained that it was initially an ethnically based organisation, not it is simply about the marginalised poor lashing out at those with economic means".
Ranneberger's concluding comment in the cable was was "Ruto was unable to offer significant steps on reform that could be accomplished within the next three months. What he did expose again was his extreme sensitivity to the establishment of any kind of tribunal and his willingness to protect his community regardless of the cost to the country as a whole. We do not expect Ruto to serve as a positive agent of change in the coming months".