This might be a clichéd story for accomplished fellows, but Oscar actually grew up on a farm in Lanet, Nakuru. He led a typical farm life; milked cows and tended the farm. In his village, boys did not made it to Alliance but he did. And it was a big deal, he says.
Alliance was sobering; he met smarter boys and didn’t perform so well, at least according to the school’s standards. He joined USIU and studied psychology, and then did his masters.
For his doctorate, he left for the United States where he worked for eight years in various law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles.
He was lured back into the country by an opening at USIU where he is now an assistant professor of psychology. He is currently the only forensic psychologist in East Africa.
We met for tea at a bistro off Rhapta Road in Westlands.
You know, I expected a socially awkward man in a tweed jacket with an elbow patch complete with a distracting beard.
(Laughs) My students don’t expect someone like me either. It’s always been funny to stand before people in the capacity of a professor. Most people don’t know how to handle this image.
Why did you come back to Kenya? Were you dying to work with the Kenya Police?
(Chuckle) You know, I always wanted to work here. Before I left for the States, I got a chance to work in Sudan when I was doing my Masters in 2002. I was part of the team that was mediating the Sudan peace talks. That was before the Machakos protocol in 2005.
What was your role?
I was a rapporteur.
I won’t even pretend I know what that is.
(Chuckle) What it meant was that my role was to shut up and record everything verbatim in those talks and not misrepresent anything said.
Those were some very delicate talks and I’m proud it set the process to their independence today. I think I achieved my self-actualisation during that period of 2002. Anything I will achieve from then is a bonus.
What did you learn from that experience?
So on this Thursday, I had just finished my Masters paper in USIU. That night, I was carjacked, beaten up and my spectacles taken. I remember staying indoors the whole weekend, feeling quite humiliated and beaten down.
On Sunday, I got the call that sent me to Sudan. There I snapped out of my self-pity because it made me realise that there are people with bigger problems.
I also realised that Kenyans are ungrateful, that we take peace for granted because war is truly nasty. That experience also made me believe that you can influence society in any capacity.
What exactly does a forensic psychologist do? Is it like those CSI chaps who profile criminals, says that the killer was left-handed and preferred red shirts?
(Laughs) Here is a small test. You walk into two crimes scenes. In the first, there is a dead woman with multiple stab wounds. In the second scene is a dead woman with one gunshot wound to the head. Who killed these two women?
The stabbed woman is a crime of passion, probably by a lover; the gun shot one is a random murder.
There you are, not too bad. The second one was probably a burglary gone wrong or a hit job. In the stabbing case, you have to look for spouse or a feud. What I do is very new here in Kenya but in short I apply psychological concept within the justice system.
I also select and recruit cops for special units. You know that the profile of cops and thugs is similar, the only difference is that a cop listens to authority while thugs don’t. Cops catch thugs because they think like them.
Because you can profile criminals, do you use this knowledge in normal life? I mean, do you sometimes meet someone and think that guy could be a criminal?
Yes, but not down to specifics. Like today, when you found me sitting here, it was deliberate. I always sit facing the door or at a corner with my back to a wall.
It’s paranoia because I know what human beings are capable of. I’m not into loose random plans either.
Forensics is tough because you deal with men and women who have engaged in a lot of terrible and evil crimes. In fact, all my clients in LA were murderers; I mean some of these guys had killed many people and were not remorseful at all.
What does that do to you?
Makes you distrustful of humanity but also very cognisant of what victims go though.
If you met a woman at a cocktail function and talked to her the whole evening, would you be able to tell if she was imbalanced, and what are the tale-tell signs?
(Laughs loudly). Man, that’s an odd question. But yes, I can identify signs, the first of which is, (chuckle) neediness. So let’s say you meet this girl in a club, you speak, have drinks, exchange numbers and part ways.
The next day if this girl asks you, “what’s your plan for today?” That’s a red flag right there. Also women who harbour fear of abandonment are a problem; “you didn’t call me today,” or “you never check up on me!” Bad. Then there are the violently jealous ones….
Are you single?
(Laughs) Now that’s a very good question.
Here we only ask very good questions, Prof.
(Laughs). I know! Listen, you are the first journalist to ask me this question directly. (Pause) But look, I don’t mind answering this question, only that I can’t be on the record. My hands are tied on this one. I can explain off the record.
Fair enough. You were involved in the aftermath of Westgate?
Yes, with Dr Mwiti together with the Kenya Psychology Association. I designed an intervention while Dr Mwiti offered training for more than 400 people, and we saw countless people.
My experience is that we have had many disasters in Kenya; from the 1998 bombing and post-election violence and Kenyans are carrying a lot of baggage.
We attended to many people who were not even affected by Westgate, and these guys have pending issues, all ready to explode.
I tell you, politicians have really messed us up, man. People are hurt and bruised and one day things will explode like in Rwanda, Congo and South Sudan.
What’s left for you to do?
Picket fence, fluffy dog….(Laughs). No. I’m in university halls; I hope to mentor these kids.
Psychoanalyse yourself, if you will…
Well, I don’t like criticism. I’m too logical, I follow a sequence. I procrastinate and I’m an idealist.
You mentioned that cops are like thugs, but you are the guy who roots out bad cops, which makes you also a thug. What kind of a criminal would you be, should you one day consider that line of business?
(Laughs) That’s a good one. (Pause). Definitely white-collar crime, but also I would do bank heists. I would get a team; motivate them. There are so many loopholes in our policing, we are literally sitting ducks, it’s God who runs this country.
You know what? We will end up like Brazil, with rich people in gated communities venturing out in armoured vehicles. It will be about them and us.