It has been not too long since President Uhuru Kenyatta reshuffled the criminal investigations unit at the National Police Service, as well as the prosecution, legal advice and administrative outfits at the State Law office.
The jury has remained out on whether the changes were intended to have in place pliable officers, who would take political direction to crack down on opposition leaders, or dictated by a genuine desire to add spine to the woeful record in the war against corruption.
Now at least two of the officers who assumed office are facing their moments of baptism by fire, and how they perform might well be used to gauge if President Kenyatta is finally prosecuting an unrelenting war on graft, or if it is all the bark of a toothless bulldog.
Growing public outrage over the undisguised return of official mega-corruption—exemplified by brazen looting at the National Youth Service, the National Cereals and Produce Board, and the massive Energy super-sector—should put firmly in the public limelight Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.
Real and pretended efforts have in the past fallen on shoddy and incompetent investigations and prosecutions that by design were not meant to actually secure convictions. Mr Kinoti and Mr Haji both came into office with substantial field experience. The DCI succeeded Ndegwa Muhoro in January, capping a meteoric comeback and redemption for the career field officer whose life directing special anti-crime units had often been disrupted by a series of transfers from combat zones.
The new DPP, hand-picked from outside the State Law office and legal sector mainstream to succeed long-serving State Lawyer Keriako Tobiko, was drawn surprisingly from the spy ranks.
When Mr Haji’s nomination was announced in mid-March, he was hardly known, having spent most of his professional career undercover with the National Intelligence Service.
When it emerged that he was the son of Garissa Senator and former Defence, Provincial Administration and Internal Security supremo Yusuf Haji, many readers initially mistook him for younger brother Abdul, one of the civilian heroes of the 2013 Westgate Mall terrorist attack.
When the younger Haji raced to the mall to take on the terrorists on that fateful day, he was on a mission to rescue his elder brother, whom he suspected he might actually be the target of extremists out for revenge.
Noordin had earlier been fingered by a TV documentary as an Intelligence officer allegedly leading a squad identifying leaders behind recruitment, indoctrination and training of violent Islamic extremists, particularly in Mombasa, an exposure that infuriated the national security establishment.
It’s a sea change from fighting crime in the shadows to such a high-profile public office. Mr Kinoti and Mr Haji are about to find out that tackling the lords of graft might be far more difficult and hazardous than gunfights with dangerous criminals.
They will be hamstrung by safeguards meant to ensure that the accused have their say, and that all evidence is critically examined. No room for shoot to kill tactics. They will be up against powerful figures with resources to get the best defence lawyers that money can buy, and extra to compromise investigators, prosecutors and even judges.
Doubts over whether they have full and unwavering political backing might also add uncertainty, as many of those in their radar will carry impressive clout with tentacles all the way to State House, probably boasting President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto on speed-dial.
That the anti-graft effort is already showing political ramifications in the 2022 presidential succession battle and internecine Jubilee duels between Kenyatta and Ruto loyalists will not add much comfort. Key government figures and the official social media propaganda machinery publicly casting doubt on the veracity of the exposures by which the President has ordered a renewed crackdown will also be causing confusion.
Questions might also be raised about the source of figures indicating some Sh10 billion allegedly stolen from NYS, yet official audits for the period show no such losses. The numbers, which have been widely broadcast, supposedly came from briefings prepared by the National Intelligence Service. That might well raise suspicion, as the service now led by Philip Kameru, has gained notoriety over the years for deviating from its core mandate and immersing itself in political battles.
That is the kind of environment in which the corruption war on is being fought. All involved will need nerves of steel and rare resolve. If they fail, the big loser will be the President, who should be desperate to get the corruption yoke off his neck.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho