Expert Witness Pinpoints Kenya Arson Attacks

But defendants’ lawyers challenge accuracy of satellite imaging.

Expert Witness Pinpoints Kenya Arson Attacks

But defendants’ lawyers challenge accuracy of satellite imaging.

A United Nations expert on satellite imagery has told judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that more than 500 buildings were deliberately burnt down during violence that hit Kenya’s Rift Valley after a disputed presidential election in 2007.

Lars Bromley, a geospatial analyst who specializes in satellite imagery at the United Nations’ operational satellite applications programme was testifying in the case against Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto and former broadcaster Joshua Arap Sang.

Both men are standing trial at the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity for orchestrating the bloodshed that unfolded after Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a presidential poll on December 27, 2007.

At the time, Ruto was deputy leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement Party (ODM) whose leader, Raila Odinga, lost the vote.

Both defendants deny the charges of murder, persecution and forcible displacement of the population allegedly carried out during the two-month long conflict between supporters of the ODM and those who voted for Kibaki and his Party of National Unity (PNU).

A number of prosecution witnesses have testified that houses belonging to the ethnic Kikuyu population in Kenya’s Rift Valley were deliberately burnt down in attacks by members of the Kalenjin community.


Prosecutors put Bromley on the stand in order to provide evidence on the number of buildings that were burnt in the Uasin Gishu area of the Rift Valley.

According to their pre-trial brief, 52,000 houses – more than in any other location - were destroyed in Uasin Gishu district during the violence.

Bromley testified about four expert reports he authored for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in which he compared satellite images of buildings taken before the unrest in December 2007 and again in January 2008. The witness was also asked to examine data on the movements of vehicles, the forced displacement of people and the setting up of road blocks.

He told the court that at least 506 buildings were deliberately torched in the Rift Valley after the December 2007 election, and a further 190 were “possibly burnt”.

Specifically, his report covered the areas of Kimumu, Langas, Kiambaa, Yamumbi and Huruma. He said that in the five areas he researched there was a “spike” in the number of fires in January 2008.

“There is essentially ample evidence of a lot of structural burning in and around the areas I was provided with by the ICC,” the witness said.

According to him, some structures that were present in the first pictures, taken in mid-December, were not in the second set, taken in January 2008, “which led me to conclude that they had been destroyed”.

“When you look at an area where structures have essentially disappeared between the ‘after image’ and ‘before image’, you try and determine why the structure has disappeared,” he continued. “So between the disappearance of the structure, the replacement was a white ash-like substance and occasionally blackened remains. I will classify those as burnt structures.”

The witness said that certain elements such as cloud cover or trees meant that sometimes he could not determine with certainty whether a building had been burnt or damaged by other means. In such instances, he classified those buildings as “possibly burnt”.

He also told judges that some images showed a grey and black substance, likely to have been ash.

“Simple logic indicates that ash is normally blown from any burnt substance after a few days,” he explained. “The pictures show that the ashes are still visible. This is a clear indication that the buildings were burnt not so long ago.”


The witness singled out a church in the Kiambaa area of Eldoret which was burnt down on New Year’s Day 2008 ,killing approximately 35 people.

Anton Steynberg, for the prosecution, showed the witness satellite images of various buildings in Kiambaa, taken on December 14, 2007 and then on January 4, 2008.

The witness said that in the Kiambaa area, 123 structures were destroyed, with 93 classified as “definite” and 30 as “possible” cases of burning.

He said that he could tell that the fires affecting these structures was deliberate, due to an uneven burn pattern.

“It [the burning of buildings] was not even and uninterrupted, as would be the case in a natural fire,” he explained. “Not all buildings in a row had been burned.”

The expert witness also testified about the movements of Ruto and Sang before violence broke out.

Prosecutors asked Bromley to analyse the time it took Sang to travel from Nairobi to Eldoret immediately after hosting his radio show.

According to the prosecution’s pre-trial brief, Ruto held meetings to plan the violence as far back as 2006. Prosecutors allege that Sang even acted as master of ceremonies at such meetings.

According to the witness, it took between 63 and 78 minutes to fly between Nairobi and Eldoret, the time depending on the kind of aircraft used. The witness also calculated the travel time for the journey by road as well as for journeys within the Rift Valley.


In its cross- examination of the witness, Ruto’s legal team challenged his analysis, arguing that the level of destruction he had described in Uasin Gihsu was inaccurate.

At the beginning of the Bromley’s testimony, presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji asked whether it was agreed that buildings were burnt down deliberately.

Faal said there was no dispute that arson took place in the area, but added that it was important to establish the extent of the attacks. He used a Google map to show the court the broad area – 25 square kilometres – covered by the witness’s satellite images. On this basis, he argued that the witness’s account of fires was misleading.

Faal also challenged the witness’s account of where arson occurred. He argued that the fires Bromley had described did not all result from the violence, and could have been the result of farmers burning crops. He put it to the witness that five fires on January 1, 2008 in the areas of Kimumu and Huruma could have been started by farmers.

“Yes,” the witness agreed.

Faal put it to the court that Bromley was not in a position to know what had caused the fires.

“We do not dispute the finding in the report that on January 1 that there was a significant spike on fires detected,” the lawyer said. “That is the extent of our admission. The witness cannot testify as to the cause of those fires because the witness, as he said, was never present there.”

The fires in Kiambaa were also a contentious issue for the defence. Faal argued that some of the structures the witness said were gutted by fire were not in Kiambaa. Instead, he said, some were in the villages of Cheplaskei and Kabongo.

Bromley replied he was relying on specific coordinates provided to him by the ICC prosecutor’s office and he had no way of knowing whether these areas were in Kiambaa or not.

Following Faal, Sang’s lawyer, Joseph Kigen-Katwa, said he agreed with the position taken by Ruto’s lawyers on the fires. He also challenged the witness’s analysis of his client’s movements around Uasin Gishu by helicopter and by car.

Following this witness’s testimony the trial adjourned for the Easter recess, and will resume in May. 

JJ Wangui is an IWPR reporter in Nairobi.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme implemented by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation.










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