Sometime back in December 2014, while I was going home, I noticed by cellphone’s battery had run out of charge. It was a precarious position to be, as I was expecting a really important call. As a result, I had to find a place to charge the phone by whatever means available. As I approached Muthaiga Police Station, I remembered having read about the Kenya police; that part of their core mission is ‘to create and maintain strong community partnerships…” I thought this could just be the solution.
I walked to the station, found this officer who was leaning on the door minding his own business and decided to talk to him. I greeted him but got no answer, just a cold handshake. I explained to him my predicament and asked him if he could allow me to charge my phone at the station! The officer thought I was joking. But I was serious.
Before he could say anything, I informed him that I had a charger and as such he did not have to worry about that. I then told him politely, “You already know my name and I have explained my predicament. What is your name-sir?” He let out a loud laugh. I laughed too, though I did not know what he/I was laughing at. But don’t they say if you can’t beat them join them?
I did not expect him to give me a name. But to my surprise, he told me his name was John Doe, and thanked me for enquiring about his name. I told him beneath the surface of him being an officer, he was a human being and that is the level I wanted us to interact at.
John Doe took my phone and charger, offered me a seat and told me he would be back in a moment (he almost sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘I will be back’). As I took my seat, my thoughts about Muthaiga police station started roaming. I tried to imagine which room Dennis Itumbi had been locked up ostensibly for hacking Moreno Ocampo and his ICC computers. I then imagined Robert Alai saying ‘Awuoro” inside one of the rooms, being a state guest for ‘hate speech’ charges.
But just as my imagination was beginning to build up, the officer was back. If I thought I had seen it all, then I was in for even bigger surprises.
John Doe took an empty seat next to me. All this time, he firmly held on to his rifle (At least I know it was not a pistol). Someone called him on his mobile phone and as he answered the call, I took a keen look at him. The feedback I got as I scanned at John Doe was that he was not just a police officer, he was a human being. I thought of the many times we have ridiculed police for this or that reason. I saw an officer doing his best to fulfill the vision of the Kenya police, despite the odds which I could see written all over the station. Once again, before my thinking cup could fill up, I heard him ask: “Wewe eti uliniambia unaitwa Mashambani, unalima nini?”
“My name is MxM,” I corrected him. We then got into a conversation. He thanked me for showing him respect and the desire to know about his work, family and life in general. As the conversation went on, he informed me that he had worked for the service with all his heart and dedication, served in different stations and ‘seen it all.’
John Doe had something unique about him. He was very philosophical and I could tell he loved Karl Marx. Whenever I said something, he would corner me with a quote by Marx. I got intrigued. I became curious. I found our conversation veering into discussions about Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. I was being lectured on the pitfalls of communism and the need for capitalism. I was excited. I then mentioned something to the effect, “always be optimistic….” He rejected this notion and said:
“You see MxM, I am not an optimist. I have served the service for over 15 years. There is no ground to be optimistic. Sometimes we make progress but then regress in no time. I make three steps forward and four steps backward. I have only been promoted once. Should I be optimistic of a second promotion? I don’t have a degree. I was not very good at school but I am good at protecting Kenyans. But I have done my own personal studies and I know what goes on around the world. As I said, when you are optimistic, you know you have sufficient evidence that if you keep doing what is good, things will get better. I do not believe that because it is yet to happen to me. I love listening to reggae music and my all-time favorite is Lucky Dube. He has a song called prisoner. It is a good song. When I listen to that song, it reminds me on the importance of being a prisoner of hope. I believe in cutting against the grain, against the evidence……..”
The stories went on and on, close to 4 hours. One thing I learnt was that police officers do their job sometimes against the odds. In so many times, we are the bricks that keep police officers on the outside. We think of them as lesser human beings. In my view, they are not perfect. But whatever ills we may think of the police, we should not blame it on the individuals, blame it on the system.
William James said it so well in that grand and masterful essay of his of 1879 called “The Sentiment of Rationality,” where he talked about faith being the courage to act when doubt is warranted. That to me is what police officers do each and every day.
PS: John Doe wrote to me the other day and informed me that he had received his second promotion! “I told you, its called cutting against the grain…”