Three crucifixes stand out in the large, well-furnished office along Kiambu Road, Nairobi. One stands on the desk, two others are on the wall.
He walks around with a rosary in his pocket, one he has kept for more than 30 years — it was blessed by Pope John Paul II. He prays several times a day and never undertakes any mission, large or small, without seeking divine help.
He is not a Catholic priest. He is Kenya’s top detective, George Kinoti, 51, appointed in January.
The Director of Criminal Investigations sits down in his office for this interview and asks for a glass of water.
“When I speak, my mouth gets dry very fast. Perhaps it is because of the bad temper associated with Merus,” Kinoti says, breaking into uproarious laughter.
He is a tough cop, no doubt about it. He has 35 bullet wounds and a near-death experience to prove it. But that’s another story.
Kinoti is also easy going and sinks into deep thought when recalling both the poignant and horrific events in his past.
The DCI grew up in the slums of Meru town. He never dreamed of chasing hard-core thugs in Kenya’s underworld.
He never imagined he would one day be ploughing through mountains of files to track down white-collar criminals, including public officials, who pocket millions of shillings of taxpayer’s money.
“My childhood vocation was to be a priest. I was brought up by a single mother, a very religious person. She used to teach us that we should not worry about where our next meal would come from,” Kinoti says.
His father long ago abandoned the family, including Kinoti’s six siblings. He met his father for the first time when he was age 30. He made peace.
“During school holidays I used to stay at a children’s home. The Sisters of Nazareth took care of me,” the DCI says. “I had poor health. They did a lot of work to care for me.”
Kinoti suffered from malnutrition and a bone ailment. He spent time at Nkubu Consolata Hospital.
Bishop Silas Njiru of Meru arranged support for Kinoti’s family throughout the hard times.
“Because of that influence, I felt that there was nothing I could give in gratitude and chose to become a priest,” he says.
He scored well in his Certificate of Primary Education exam and joined Pope Pius X Seminary.
“I led my class in the O Level exam [Form 4 under the old system] but I was not on A Levels. I wanted to go to the major seminary. But the bishop encouraged me to go for the A Level.”
Kinoti rejected the school he was admitted to and chose one near the seminary, Kanyakine High School. The headmaster was astounded that young Kinoti had turned down the better school. Environment CS Keriako Tobiko, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, was a year ahead of him.
Kinoti excelled in his studies and within a short time was appointed school captain. He passed his A Level exam and was admitted to Egerton University to study sociology. In those days, new students also underwent mandatory paramilitary training at the National Youth Service.
Life at NYS, Egerton university
Kinoti was not interested in a university education. His heart was in the priesthood. He had made plans to leave for Italy to train as a Jesuit.
“The bishop was not comfortable with this. He sent emissaries to prevail upon me not to proceed to Italy,” Kinoti said.
The bishop asked the administrator [at the Jesuit Institute] to take me to the National Youth Service camp in Gilgil and hand me over to the commandant. That is how my dream of the priesthood ended.”
Kinoti’s experiences at Gilgil and university changed his outlook. He said his many encounters with the police and the many negative stories about policing inspired in him a desire to join the Police Service. Maybe he could make a difference.
Bishop Njiru was very supportive, and wrote to Commissioner of Police Philip Kilonzo to introduce Kinoti.
Throughout his university days and police training in Kiganjo, Kinoti remained attached to the Catholic Church in Meru. He stayed and worked at the diocesan headquarters during holidays until he graduated. He started life on his own.
The DCI says he is a very prayerful man. He does not hesitate to state what drives him.
“Humanity and a sense of fairness. All of us are equal in the eyes of God. You cannot be superior to others simply because of position and money and whom you know,” he says.
Kinoti is married with three grown children.