He knew that if he did not do something, and do it fast, someone would die. A few metres away, a group of men with clubs and other crude weapons were mercilessly beating up a man lying on the ground.
By the time he came across this chilling scene, it was evident that the beating had been taking place for some time, because the man was covered in blood.
Vincent Makokha was in uniform, but the problem was that the only weapon he had was a baton, which he knew was useless against the murderous fury before his eyes.
However, his conscience could not allow him to stand by and watch, and praying that his uniform had enough authority to scatter the group, he charged at them, shouting at the top of his voice.
To his immense relief, the group ran away when they realised he was a policeman.
“My actions saved that man’s life, but I knew that had those men decided to confront me, I probably would not be telling this story today,” he says.
Vincent Makokha is a Superintendent with the administrative police, and during his 25 years in the police force, he has been in several life-threatening situations where his police uniform made no impact whatsoever on the aggressors.
“Most Kenyans have no respect for the police – I cannot count the number of times I have been taunted or provoked while going about my job,” he says.
Talk to a couple of Kenyans, and the picture that emerges of the police is that of brutal, trigger-happy men and women who feel only disdain for the people they are expected to protect.
While Makokha agrees that there are definitely bad apples in the force, the basket is not without some good ones, men and women who are passionate about their jobs, and who risk their lives daily to ensure that Kenyans go about their day-to-day activities in peace.
“Unfortunately, only the negative stories about the police get more air play; rarely do we see the positive ones.”
Makokha has served in various parts of the country, where he says he has had the misfortune to experience the loathsome way in which he and his colleagues are viewed by the public.
One of his worst experiences, he says, was when demonstrators pelted them with stones, during a demonstration in Embakasi, in the outskirts of the city center, sometime in 2000.
“The experience made me wonder whether there is a difference between the militias in North Eastern and the ordinary Kenyan in Nairobi,” he says, wondering why anyone would pick up a stone and aim for another’s head without any provocation, just to see what will happen.
“We are people too – when you hurt us, we feel pain – we are husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, and we have loved ones who depend on us.”
Makokha says he has been called many names and given many demeaning titles, including illiterate, corrupt, a killer, never mind that in some of the occasions, he was on night patrol, his duty to ensure that the same people hurling insults were safe during their merrymaking.
Normally, Makokha ignores the belittlement, relying mostly on his Christian faith as a source of validation that his job was nobler than most people would care to admit.
“I find it annoying when people say that we are paid to do our jobs, because if I died today, no amount of money would change the fact that my wife will be a widow and my children fatherless,” he says.
It is telling that he finds such incidents of disrespect more painful than a fatal one that left scores of his counterparts dead.
Makokha’s first posting was in Kakamega, where his duties were mainly “menial and simple”, such as escorting vehicles carrying money and guarding government buildings.
A year later however, he got to learn what being a police officer meant, when he and his counterparts were sent to Garissa where bandits were terrorising residents.
Makokha and members of his platoon, mostly young men he had joined the administrative police unit with, were sent to the volatile North Eastern region.
“One day we were ambushed by the bandits as we traveled by road, and in less than a minute, six of my friends were lying on the ground dead – like the rest of us, they had attempted to jump out of the vehicle to take cover,” he narrates. To date, he is not sure whether it was his combat skills that saved him or whether it was simply luck.
“Though I also jumped out, somehow I survived.”
Looking back, he says that it was miracle that any of them survived, considering the fact that they had no bullet-proof vests then, while the guns they had were “short range”, reducing them to sitting ducks, and no match for the bandits, who had more sophisticated weapons.
As he crouched on the side of the vehicle, cringing with every bullet that struck the vehicle, his thoughts were on his fiance, Susan, who he feared he might not live to see again.
Makokha and his wife, Susan, a teacher, have been married for 23 years now, and have two children – their son, Elisha, is 21, and is a third year medical student in the University of Nairobi, while their daughter, Prudence, 16, is in Form Two at BuruBuru Girls High School in Nairobi. She wants to be either a lawyer or journalist.
Makokha, who says that his family is his greatest pride, says that being a policeman, people expect him to be the disciplinarian at home – he isn’t, saying that his wife plays that role.
“Teachers are tougher than policemen,” he quips, adding that he is a softie when it comes to his children.
“Susan accuses me of being too permissive with them, especially my daughter, who she feels I have spoiled because I am too lenient with her.”
Makokha says he and his children are big fans of football, and die-hard Arsenal fans.
“We never miss any Arsenal games, much to the displeasure of Susan, who is a stickler for deadlines and timetables, especially where our children’s education is concerned.”
He adds that though his wife is not a football fan, she watches matches with them, but always cheers the team playing against Arsenal.
The biggest impediment to a policeman’s marriage, he says, is distance.
“You can be posted anywhere in the country; right now, I am based in Nairobi, while my wife is in Kakamega, where she teaches…it can be lonely, and so we make an effort to visit each other as often as we can, at least every two weeks.”
Makokha, who is the head of the research department of the administrative police, will be graduating with a doctorate in counselling psychology from Laikipia University.
Obviously, the climb from constable, the lowest position in the administration police, to where he is now has not been a smooth one, but it is one he says has made him a better man.
“My most outstanding characteristic is determination, followed by curiosity – curious people absorb and learn more,” he points out.
The experiences that he has gone through in the course of his career, as well as observing the same conflicting emotions on the faces of his colleagues, are what prompted him to study psychology.
“At the time, I needed to understand what I was going through – it is tough staring death in the face most of the time.”
He first enrolled for diploma in counselling psychology at Kenya Methodist University. After completing his diploma he enrolled for an undergraduate programme at the same institution, knowledge that would come in handy when he was deployed to West Pokot in 2006.
As a platoon commander, it was his duty to recover stolen cattle from hostile cattle rustlers as the rest of the country enjoyed their Christmas holiday.
Sometimes, he says, they would engage in gun battles with the rustlers for as long as three hours.
“Several times, a bullet would fall just a pace away from my feet…had the gun been of a slightly longer range, I would have died,” he says.
He lost some of his men during this mission, some of whom he had formed close bonds with. It is a loss that weighed heavily on him, especially since the young men had been under his command.
The loss also dampened the moral of the surviving men, who, besides dealing with the pressure of being away from home in a hostile environment, had also watched their colleagues gunned down.
“Being in command, I had to become a counsellor to my men, and I must say that my knowledge helped.
“In such situations, it is very important to get one to talk about what they are feeling. When traumatised, people bottle up their emotions, and are more likely to become violent.”
When this violence comes to the fore, he adds, one is most likely to transfer the aggression to the weaker links around them, such as civilians or family members.
This, Superintendent Makokha believes, is the likely chain of events that takes place when you read that a police officer stabbed or shot his wife or civilians, and then killed himself.
However, he says no amount of knowledge in psychology helps when breaking news to the family of a deceased officer.
“No matter how many times you do it, it never gets easier.”
Over the course of his career, thanks to experience and education, Makokha is aware of the generational difference between him and the younger people in the force.
He observes: “The colonial training taught the public to fear the police, while the police were taught to use force, this however has been proved as the most ineffective method of restoring order…today’s generation, within and outside the force, like to be heard and engaged, and detest having ideas rammed down their throats.”
With this in mind, Makokha, also a trainer at the AP’s training college in Embakasi, as well as a chaplain, (he has a postgraduate diploma in theology from the Nairobi international School of Theology) eliminates hierarchies by, for instance, encouraging junior and senior officers to have their meals together and share in responsibilities equally.
He also encourages the junior officers to go back to school.
“I tell them promotions and professionalism do not fall from heaven.”
When at work, this gentleman wears many hats, but when at home, he is simply a husband and a father.
“It is important to shed off your professional hat when you go back home in the evening, something I often remind my officers to do.”
A wife, he adds, is a reflection of the kind of man her husband is.
“At home, I ensure that the environment encourages interaction between me and my wife and children – If you cannot relax and be yourself in your home, where else can you do it?”
Indeed, where else can you do it?