Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How not to pay bribes to cops in Kenya

A few months ago, somebody told me the best way to avoid paying bribes to cops in Kenya is to be polite and waste their time, which they would rather be using to collect bribes from more cooperative people. I got the chance to try it out last week, when a cop pulled me over in Kilimani at lunchtime. The following is the abbreviated exchance, leaving out the call he took from his girfriend and attempts to gain sympathy for having a cold:

Cop: "You are displaying a duplicate insurance certificate. That is an offence in Kenya."

Me: "Oh, I'm very sorry. I just bought this car and didn't know."

Cop: "I understand, but we will have to go the police station. There will be big fine, and it will take a long time."

Me: "OK officer, no problem."

Cop: "Do you know where the Kilimani station is?"

Me: "Yes, it's just round the corner. I'll meet you there."

Cop: "Ah, no. I can't let you drive off. I will have to impound the car and we walk."

Me: "Well, jump in and I'll give you a lift. You can impound the car there."

COP CASTS FORLORN GLANCE AT OTHER, JUICY POSSIBLE BRIBES GOING PAST, BUT DECIDES TO PLAY IT OUT

Cop (IN CAR, LOOKING AT MY LICENCE, GRINS): "Ah, you have not signed your licence. That is also an offence in Kenya."

Me: "Oh, I'm sorry officer. I didn't know. We can sort it out at the station."

Cop: "That will be another fine."

(SIGNIFICANT PAUSE).

Me: "No problem."

Cop: "It will be very expensive."

Me: "Fair enough."

(CONFUSED PAUSE)

Cop: "You are a very cooperative person."

Me: "Well, I need to have respect for the laws of Kenya and the officers who uphold them."

Cop: "The fine will be at least 5,000 shillings for each offence."

(SIGNIFICANT PAUSE, ACCOMPANIED BY EVEN-MORE SIGNIFICANT LOOK)

Me: "If that is the penalty, then I will have to pay it."

(CAR IS APPROACHING POLICE STATION, COP IS LOOKING THOROUGHLY STUMPED)

Cop: "Are you sure you want to go through all the trouble?"

Me: "The law's the law."

(SILENCE, CAR ONLY 50 METRES FROM STATION)

Cop: "I tell you what, why don't I just give you a warning this time? We can just pull this off."

(COP PULLS OFF INSURANCE STICKER, WHICH IS THE EXPIRED ONE SO COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT. THE CURRENT STICKER IS PERFECTLY LEGAL)

Me: "Thank you very much officer, I appreciate your kindness."

Cop: "It is no problem. You will know next time. So, where are you going now?"

Me: "I am going to the office. Do you want me to drop you back at the junction?"

Cop: "Yes, please."

(I DROP COP OFF AT JUNCTION. HE LOOKS AT THE ONCOMING TRAFFIC, READY TO POUNCE).

Kenya birth and hospital hostages

Given that my wife, Natalie, is about to pop out (well, she hopes it will be that easy) our first kid in a Nairobi hospital, I found this article from Edmund Sanders at the LA Times particularly pertinent.

Sanders talks to several woman who were held captive in Kenyan hospitals when they failed to pay their bills for giving birth. Horrible, yes, but not surprising given that public services, and not just healthcare, are dire in Kenya while ministers and MPs live the high life.

If ever a town demonstrated the worst elements of rampant capitalism and its every-man-for-themselves attitude, it is Nairobi.

We are fortunate not to be in the same position as those poor women, although I may find myself lowering Nats out of a toilet window and smuggling the baby out in a plastic bag if any of the additional items on the hospital's a-la-carte birth menu (c-section, episiotomy, vacuum removal, drugs to revive fainted husband) need to be purchased.