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Ex-ICC witness speaks out on Kiambaa church horror

Former International Criminal Court witness Peter Mbuthia. He said the victims of post-election violence must get justice. PHOTO | COURTESY

In Summary

  • The attack happened on January 1, 2008 when armed perpetrators raided the church and torched it. They also locked the church to prevent victims from escaping.
  • In his book, Mbuthia accuses some nurses of ignoring and mistreating patients, who were from the opposing tribes or political camps.

In June 2014, a man whose face was hidden and voice obstructed stood to testify in camera at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a case against Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua arap Sang.

So as to arrive at the ICC headquarters in The Hague safely, witness had to travel under difficult circumstances, including hiding from hired mercenaries hunting down ICC witnesses — who would later be found dead or who ended up becoming victims of forced disappearance.

More than 20 witnesses were killed or disappeared without a trace, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says.

On Wednesday, that man, Peter Mbuthia, became the first ICC witness to publicly reveal his identity in an interview with the Nation .

“My life is still in danger. I believe every person who gave their testimony at the ICC is in danger, even if some recanted their testimony. I believe those who organised the violence are powerful, well-connected politicians, and as long as they remain at large I don’t feel safe,” he confessed.


Despite the danger he and his family face, Mbuthia said it will be cowardly to continue being scared into silence.

“Many of my relatives do not know that I participated at the ICC, and they may be shocked. I’m also sure this interview will elicit hate speech from some quarters. But we can only move on, especially emotionally, when we get our justice and reparations,” he said.

Part of Mbuthia’s testimony is contained in a new book, Scars of a Nation: Survivor of Kiambaa Church Massacre and the Elusive Justice, released last week.

The book, which will be available in bookshops in Kenya from May 30, is available also on, Amazon Kindle and, as well as at Barnes & Nobles booksellers.

The book narrates the chilling experience of a father whose three children were inside the Kiambaa church during the post-election violence of 2007-2008 when people he identifies as Kalenjin warriors set the church ablaze.


The attack happened on January 1, 2008 when armed perpetrators raided the church and torched it. They also locked the church to prevent victims from escaping.

“In less than two hours, over 35 people, mostly women and children, lay dead. Seventeen of them were burnt alive, some of whom lay in the rubble, completely unidentifiable and smouldering in smoke.

Anthony (his son, aged 10 years at the time) managed to escape but with severe burns,” he writes.

He narrates: “Anthony told me that at around 12pm while they were grazing the sheep near the church compound, they heard people wailing and screaming loudly. When they looked around, they saw hundreds of Kikuyu people of Kiambaa village running towards the church.

“Among these people was Anthony’s grandmother, who was blowing a whistle to alert the people of the attack as she came running towards the church too.”

He continues: “While inside the church, everyone could hear clacking sounds of iron sheets from the church’s rooftop as the warriors hit the church with stones. Women wailed and prayed. Then Anthony heard someone say, ‘they have burnt the church! They have doused it with fuel!’ He panicked. All of a sudden, he saw a huge fire falling down from the rooftop.”


The teenager was later hospitalised at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, where Mbuthia said there was only one doctor on duty in the casualty reception area.

In his book, Mbuthia accuses some nurses of ignoring and mistreating patients, who were from the opposing tribes or political camps.

It took three days for Anthony to open his eyes. He has since undergone several specialised surgeries at Kijabe Mission Hospital (he was treated at the hospital for five months) and at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento, US, where he underwent corrective surgeries.

“Anthony reminded me that he underwent many corrective surgeries and blood transfusions through his treatment period. He had initially counted, but lost count of them along the way. He estimated that he had over 50 visits to the surgical theatre in Kenya and over 20 in the US, all of them scattered over a period of five years,” he writes.

While recuperating at Kijabe Mission Hospital, then-Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson sent young Anthony, a Manchester United fan, a quick recovery message on September 1, 2008.

Sir Ferguson sent the note after learning about Anthony’s predicament on the BBC.


After the burning of the church, Mbuthia and his neighbours were escorted away from the clashes in Eldoret to Nakuru by Kenya Defence Forces soldiers.

The attackers also burnt down his business premises at Mwiruti shopping centre, his homestead and that of his mother and more than 20 houses belonging to his neighbours, a 20-minute drive from Langas Police Station and Eldoret Central Police Station and an hour’s drive from the army barracks in Eldoret.
He said he does not understand why security agents did not come to the aid of his village.

Mbuthia became one of the internally displaced people in Naivasha, where he lived for two years.
He was to reconnect with his son, who was in the US for treatment, after five years.


In February 2008, Mbuthia decided to seek justice and reparations for his family.

He walked into the Langas Police Station and recorded a statement about the burning of the church and the attacks.

He is still waiting for the police at the polling station to call him so that he can give more evidence.

On March 7, 2011, the Pretrial Chamber II of the ICC issued summonses to appear for the six suspects who were said to bear the greatest responsibility for the violence.

Almost a year later, on January 23, 2012, the chamber confirmed charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto, Sang and Francis Muthaura.

The court let off the hook Henry Kosgey and Hussein Ali.

Sometime in early 2012, Mbuthia received a call from a woman who informed him that she was calling from the office of the ICC legal representative for victims of the case against Ruto and Sang.


She explained that they had been referred to her by the office of the Centre for Justice for Crimes against Humanity, a non-profit organisation. The organisation’s website has since been shut down.

So as to meet the investigators, he travelled by bus to Kampala, the location of the ICC regional office.

After writing down his testimony and with the confirmation of the charges against Ruto and Mr Sang, Mr Mbuthia said there was a weird inquiry about his location, evidence that he used to accuse some people who had access to the ICC witness list.

Later, some of the individuals who had collected evidence against the suspects — notable among them lawyer Oscar Kangára and former student leader John Oula, alias Oulu GPO — were killed.

Mbuthia said he could not travel to The Hague through JKIA due to fears that hired mercenaries could kidnap or kill him.

Instead, he travelled by bus to Arusha, then boarded a domestic flight to Dar es Salaam Airport via Abeid Amani Karume airport in Zanzibar.


From Dar es Salaam, he boarded a KLM flight to the Netherlands from where he presented his testimony to judges Chile Eboe-Osuji, Robert Fremr and Herrera Carbuccia.

When the cases collapsed, Mbuthia felt religious groups and the international community had abandoned survivors and victims.

“I also believe that some powerful forces outside Kenya have been working to deny justice to victims because violence is used as a tool of control, not only in Kenya but the whole of Africa.

“These outside forces prop up leaders; then cleverly and behind the scenes guide them into positions of leadership so that they can use them for their own interests. They therefore have an obligation to protect them when they run into trouble,” he said during the interview.

The efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the violence were marred by interference with witnesses.


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