SOFTER TOUCH

A bit of wit to brighten bleak times

Gratitude is lost when police treat people without face masks as criminals.

In Summary
  • Police and the public need reorientation to understand why these measures are necessary.
  • Some cases can be handled with wit, love, respect, and humour. This would make the incidents memorable

Some anti-coronavirus interventions like wearing face masks, social distancing, and washing hands don't require police intervention. But then this is Kenya where indiscipline is habitual.

Neither do failure to comply with some of the measures require being dragged to a police station. Or being kept in a police cell for five hours, then released after compromising law enforcers.

Police and the public need reorientation to understand why these measures are necessary. Some cases can be handled with wit, love, respect, and humour. This would make the incidents memorable.

Humour humanises the crisis by helping to build teams of stakeholders to sail us out of the Covid-19 turbulence. Prof Ochieng' Orwenjo, a linguist at The Technical University of Kenya, a sharp thinker, recently talked himself out of a police roadblock.

The scene played out on Siaya-Bondo road, on a Friday afternoon. A yawning police officer, visibly bored, thirsty, and hungry, flags down a lone motorist in a dark blue Mercedes Benz.  

The motorist brings the car to a gentle stop, 10 metres in front of the policeman. The motorist releases the seatbelt, reclines royally, and then loyally waits to find out what the policeman was up to.

The motorist calls himself the Royal Prince of Karuoth, Alego, Siaya. 'Karuoth' means from the lineage of chiefs or kings. Karuoth borders Alego-Kogelo, the ancestral home of former US President Barack Obama.

The Royal Prince of Karuoth was driving to his residence, which he calls 'Hacienda Danielli'. The royal one knew police flagging meant he would stay a few minutes longer on the road. He had wanted to arrive at the palace earlier, to relax while watching the sun going down, with his favourite bottle of Jack Daniel's. He loves a breezing swallow of Tennessee whisky, spiced with a serving of chilled Coca Cola.

Traffic Police Officer:  "Why are you not wearing a face mask?

Two weeks ago, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho delivered thousands of face masks at the coastal city's police stations and roadblocks. His message was, when you find people not wearing face asks, you don't arrest them. Instead, give them face masks because they may not be in a position to buy the disposable stuff. That way you disarm, and then humanise them. They will say thank you. Gratitude is lost when police treat people without face masks as criminals.

Royal Prince of Karuoth: Removes his mask from the glove compartment of the car, and shows the police a gleaming white stuff.

Traffic Police Officer: "Mbona hujavaa face mask wewe"?

Royal Prince of Karuoth: Looks at the policeman studiously, then surveys the driver's seat, then turns to the back seats.  He was confirming he was alone in the five-seater car.

Traffic Police Officer: "Why are you not wearing a face mask?"

Royal Prince of Karuoth: "Why should I put it on when I'm alone in the car?"

Traffic Police Officer: "Sasa unanifunza kazi? Si ndio?"

Royal Prince of Karuoth: "Why is the face mask important?"

Traffic Police Officer: "It will prevent you from contracting coronavirus. Covid-19 is killing people, haven't you heard?"

Royal Prince of Karuoth: "Officer, I believe you may have used condoms before, to prevent you from contracting HIV-Aids. But if you are alone in bed, would you put on a condom?"

Traffic Police Officer: "Wewe, enda zako bwana lakini hiyo mdomo yako itakuletea shida siku moja."

Royal Prince of Karuoth: Belts up, puts the face mask in the glove compartment, and then gently drives away. He tells the police officer, "Thank you for wasting my time."

There was this viral shouting match between a police officer and a human rights activist and photojournalist Boniface Mwangi in Korogocho slum. The police had arrested two men for not wearing face masks. By the time Mwangi caught up with the 'suspects', they were wearing face masks.

The police officer, Mwangi, the suspects, and a cheering crowd walked to the Korogocho police post. On arrival, the suspects washed their hands, and then sanitised before joining others at the reception. The others were probably arrested for the same 'crime'.

It was not clear what the charge would be, but the crowd had no respect for social distance. The heckling could very easily have facilitated viral infections.

Two weeks ago, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho delivered thousands of face masks at the coastal city's police stations and roadblocks. His message was, when you find people not wearing face asks, you don't arrest them.

Instead, give them face masks because they may not be in a position to buy the disposable stuff. That way you disarm, and then humanise them. They will say thank you. Gratitude is lost when police treat people without face masks as criminals.

Indian police have a memorable way of handling people who don't wear face masks in public. The suspects are arrested, and then shoved, as they wriggle, into a police ambulance.

There is a casket in the ambulance, housing a man wearing a light blue hazmat and a face mask. The man sneezes to scare the 'suspects'. The mock fight between the robot and the suspects is a statement to deviants. The suspects are given face masks before they are released to go and broadcast their near-death encounter.