George Kinoti is a man under siege. As the focus centres on the excesses of officers under him, the former Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss looks like the man who will, perhaps, carry the cross of all the excesses of the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency in a political tit-for-tat that is gaining momentum.
How much President William Ruto is willing to dig into the operations of the DCI will define the structure of the security agencies, which had during the Kenyatta presidency been operating with a multi-agency structure to confront crime and corruption.
President Ruto had maintained that the fight against corruption was weaponised to target his supporters, which has left Mr Kinoti, the poster boy for the war, at the edge.
Mr Kinoti, who recently quit as Director of Criminal Investigations after four years at the helm, has seen his senior officers turn around and accuse him of engineering the charging of key politicians, among them Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, with corruption.
Mr Gachagua had, during campaigns for the August elections, accused Mr Kinoti of a witch-hunt and claimed that the court case was politically motivated. Due to his abrasive nature, Mr Kinoti earned admirers and critics in equal measures.
Those who hated him saw him as a ruthless cop who targeted politicians aligned with Dr Ruto in a bid to deflate his campaign. Those who liked him say he tamed the terrorists and crime. The neutrality line seems to be blurred by politics. If Mr Gachagua’s case collapses, the focus will also be on the independence of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Noordin Haji, who is the gatekeeper of cases heading to the courts.
Recently, Mr Haji terminated the Sh19 million corruption case against the new Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Ms Aisha Jumwa, and the Sh400 million graft case against former Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo and ten others, leading to public criticism.
Mr Kinoti is also under siege after the arrest of officers of one of the security outfits within DCI, the Special Services Unit, following President Ruto’s accusation that they were behind the enforced disappearance of Kenyans and extra-judicial killings. Several officers have already been in custody over the disappearance of two Indian nationals, Mohammed Said Sami and Zulfiqar Ahmed, and their Kenyan taxi driver Nicodemus Mwanzia. The two Indians were said to have been involved in Dr Ruto’s presidential campaign.
The unexplained dumping of bodies in River Yala and Tana River and enforced disappearances blamed on the Uhuru Kenyatta regime are being followed by human rights activists and families. How much was known by members of the multi-agency team and other security apparatus is not clear, but that police had never arrested anyone over the River Yala bodies had left the entire system with a splotch.
The Law Society of Kenya has already met President Ruto and asked him to form a commission of inquiry into cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country, arguing that it was the only way to get to the truth.
President Ruto has already blamed SSU for the “killings of Kenyans” and it will be interesting to see how he will handle the situation.
During his presidency, former President Kenyatta approved a multi-agency approach to dealing with crime, which enabled security officers from different agencies to agree on responses to crime and security. It will be interesting to see how deeper President Ruto will dig into the affairs of the multi-agency team, which was approved by the Cabinet following recommendations of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC).
Members of this multi-agency team were drawn from the Ministry of Interior, the National Intelligence Service, the National Police Service, the office of the Attorney General, and various agencies.
The multi-agency team was credited by various Western governments for the efforts to stop terror attacks in Kenya and for the swift arrest of those wanted for international crimes.
For instance, the DCI earned accolades after the arrest of ivory kingpin Mansur Mohamed Surur, who later pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic in rhino horns and elephant ivory, both endangered wildlife species. More so, they were credited for the investigation into the Westgate attack, which led to the jailing of two men who aided the al-Shabaab gunmen who in 2013 killed 67 people in Nairobi.
If he goes for a commission of inquiry, President Ruto and his handlers will follow a pattern that President Kibaki used that took most of the Moi kingpins through the embarrassing Goldenberg Commission of Inquiry, which laid bare the corruption cartels that were behind the Nyayo-era theft of public funds. Interestingly, all the cases that emerged out of the investigation later collapsed, and Goldenberg beneficiaries remained free.
Another move by President Kibaki was opening the Nyayo House torture chambers, which gave victims of the Moi regime brutality a chance to view the deadly dungeons where critics of the Kanu government were tortured. President Kibaki also set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address historical issues, which included political assassinations, disappearances, tribal clashes, and land grievances. Ironically, President Kibaki's regime would also be accused of enforced disappearances targeting mostly members of the Mungiki group and perceived al-Shabaab supporters at the coast and northeastern regions.
President Moi had also faced similar challenges after coming to office, and in order to clean up the Kenyatta security system, he had Attorney General Charles Njonjo accuse the anti-stock theft unit of harbouring a killer squad that allegedly wanted to assassinate all senior politicians in Kenya.
The accusations led to a fallout within the police force and significant changes that would lead to the fall of Mr Njonjo himself and the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry in 1983 led by Justice Cecil Miller. In 1982, Maj Gen Peter Mwagiru Kariuki, the Kenya Air Force commander, became the fall guy after the abortive coup and was stripped of his military ranks and jailed.
However, Maj Gen Kariuki always maintained that intelligence had briefed President Moi on the coup. On March 21, 2014, Mr Kariuki was finally vindicated, but after 31 years, when the Court of Appeal restored his “ranks, benefits, honours and decorations” and awarded him damages.
As President Ruto configures his government, and as the digging into the police force and investigative agencies continues, it will be interesting to see whether George Kinoti — a man who wanted to be a priest — will be the fall guy or whether his seniors will also be on tenterhooks.