The trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which people watched on local TV or online, gave rise to intense discussion in the capital Nairobi.
“There are those who… will keep on making orders for tea and other snacks long after lunch, because they want to watch the TV,” a waiter at a popular café in central Nairobi explained. “There are those who start drinking after lunch just to keep watching the trials.”
Ruto and his co-defendant, former journalist Joshua Arap Sang, are standing trial in The Hague for allegedly planning attacks in the Rift Valley region, following the disputed presidential election of December 2007. The defendants are facing charges of murder, persecution, and forcible population transfer which they have all denied.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is also set to stand trial at the ICC in November.
Two months of political and ethnic conflict engulfed Kenya before an internationally-brokered peace agreement restored calm in early 2008. More than 1,100 people were killed and 650,000 others were displaced by the bloodshed.
Prosecutors accuse Ruto, at the time deputy leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), of exploiting political and ethnic tensions to whip up support among members of his Kalenjin ethnic group to launch attacks against Kikuyus.
In the 2007 election, Kikuyus in the Rift Valley largely voted for the victorious Party of National Unity.
The first prosecution witness to give testimony told judges this week about the burning of a church in the Rift Valley village of Kiambaa.
The witness told judges how approximately 3,000 armed young Kalenjin surrounded the church, which was then set ablaze. The Kikuyus who had taken refuge inside, including women and children, were trapped and up to 35 people died.
“When someone would try to leave the church they would grab the person and push them back in,” the witness told the court.
Her emotional account struck a chord with those following her testimony back in Kenya.
“I watched that witness speak about what happened in Kiambaa church and I felt like I should cry,” Nancy Muiruri, a law student in Nairobi, said. “I respect her for the courage she has to testify and narrate all that heavy stuff.”
Maryanne Waigwa, who works at a library in central Nairobi, added, “She is a strong woman if she witnessed all that, because I heard her recalling how some woman she knows was raped and killed and some other people cut up with axes and others burnt, including children.”
The first of the two Kenya cases is getting under way three-and-a-half years after the ICC launched its investigation into the post-election violence.