The son of Kenya's founding father and a former government minister took the stage before thousands of supporters in what was billed as prayer meeting days before the two face the International Criminal Court.
But observers say the two _ along with high-powered supporters _ instead could be trying to rile up tribes with hate speech, which could incite the type of violence Kenya saw after its 2007 presidential election.
It is for that violence that six Kenyans must report to The Hague on Thursday for preliminary proceedings over charges of crimes against humanity. More than 1,000 Kenyans died and 600,000 were forced from their homes during the violence in late 2007 and early 2008.
Two of the six _ Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Higher Education Minister William Ruto _ have held several rallies in recent weeks, including an afternoon of speeches before thousands on Monday in the town of Gatundu, a region full of Uhuru supporters.
The gatherings are billed as prayer meetings, but little of the time is devoted to religion.
"When five minutes are used to pray you cannot call those prayer meetings," said Henry Maina of the freedom of expression group Article 19. "The intention of the meetings is to stir up hatred."
Uhuru _ the son of the late Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president after independence from Britain in 1963 _ is being billed as a top contender for Kenya's next presidential election in 2012.
Now Uhuru's and Ruto's political futures will be colored by what transpires at the ICC, whose prosecutor contends that the six helped direct the election violence. Also charged are former Minister of Industrialization Henry Kiprono Kosgey, Cabinet Secretary Francis Kirimi Muthaura, former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali and broadcaster Joshua Sang.
Violence erupted in Kenya after President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the December 2007 vote that supporters of the leading opposition candidate Raila Odinga said was rigged.
Postelection clashes erupted between tribes that supported Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and those that supported Odinga, a Luo. Fighting stopped after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan mediated an agreement that made Odinga prime minister.
On Tuesday, Annan asked leaders to exercise restraint in the use of language as the six suspects go to The Hague to attend court proceedings.
"There is palpable tension in the air in Kenya, with the flames of hate language and ethnic incitement being fanned from various quarters." Annan said in a statement. "Words can soothe, as well as inflame."
A 2008 government report on the violence found that politicians used hate speech that made tribes turn on one another.
Maina fears Uhuru is using that kind of speech again. He accused Uhuru of using hate speech in a rally on Friday where he invoked the prime minister's mother. Odinga's half of Kenya's coalition government has refused to support requests made to the U.N. Security Council by Kibaki, the president, to defer the cases against the six.
Munyori Buku, Uhuru's spokesman, said accusations of hate speech by Article 19 are inaccurate. Buku said the only groups in Kenya with the authority to label words as hate speech are courts and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. The commission says it is looking into allegations of hate speech but won't comment until next week.
Odinga in February entered into a war of words with Kenyatta and Ruto. Uhuru, in a radio show interview conducted in his native tongue of Kikuyu, made what is considered a disrespectful reference to Odinga. The prime minister hit back in remarks widely believed to describe Ruto and Uhuru as drunkards and land-grabbing thieves.
In Monday's rally, which was attended by more than 35 members of parliament loyal to Uhuru and Ruto, speaker after speaker lambasted the prime minister and the ICC. Several parliamentarians said Odinga is supporting the ICC process to ensure Ruto and Uhuru are jailed during the 2012 presidential race, clearing Odinga's path to the presidency.
Ruto has announced his presidential ambitions, while Uhuru, a Kikuyu, has been anointed by some leaders in his community as Kibaki's successor.
"The case here is a political one to determine who will go into the statehouse," Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi said at Monday's rally. "What is going on here is judicial neocolonialism."
Stephen Gathuo, an official with a group of people displaced from their homes by the postelection violence, said the recent rallies would lead to hostilities. He said the two leaders are inciting Ruto's Kalenjin community in the Rift Valley and tribes allied to Uhuru in Central Province against Odinga's Luo community in Nyanza.
"Those prayer meetings have elevated tribal animosity, because it is not prayers, it is politics and hurling abuses," Gathuo said. "It has destroyed the relationships we were slowly rebuilding between tribes after the postelection violence."