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No matter what, don’t bribe the police in Kenya


Not all experiences with the Kenyan police are bad, but we all know that most of them are.  I’m one of those people whose heart starts to race at every road block, and I avoid eye contact with our boys in blue unless absolutely necessary.

You’d think I’m a mass murder, but the truth is I am not guilty of any crime. I pride myself in never breaking the law, I always carry my license, make sure insurance is up to date, and keep the car in good nick, I don’t go off road, throw litter, or speed… well, that’s on most days anyway.

But then of course the one day that I do press the accelerator a little too hard, I get caught.  It’s sods law and it has happened to all of us, that crushing feeling that you are on the wrong side of the law and you deserve punishment … and you know that the cops are salivating at the opportunity to make a quick buck.

We were driving to Laikipia from Nairobi on the Nakuru Highway and I was at the wheel driving well within the speed limit. We made  made a short stop but I had to catch up with the other car in our convoy –  I know that I was just over the 100kph speed limit. Guilty as charged. Just my luck that the police caught me at that exact moment. I was waved over by a swaggering young police man with a friendly face and big “gotcha” attitude. This was going to be an easy kill for him.

“Madam you were speeding, let me see your license” he says. I turn on my “F*** You attitude” and say “ no I was not speeding sir, I’ve been monitoring the speedometer and I was within 100 kph”

Policeman – “Madam, my friend has captured you on the radar, you were speeding. You were going 107 kpm”.

Damn! I know I was over the limit so it’s not worth pushing this line of argument so I switch to “grovel mode”

“Sir, I’m very sorry, perhaps my eyes strayed momentarily, I will drive more carefully”,

Policeman – “no I have to give you a ticket….” he looks me in the eye knowingly – I play total ignorace.  I know he’s playing with me…

I sigh audibly and hand him my drivers license “I will issue you an instant fine, it is 3000 shillings…” he says in Kiswahili

Peter my melanin deficient fiancé in the passenger seat oblivious of what we are saying

“I don’t have three thousand shillings” I respond in Swahili

The Cop continues “…and you have to go to court on Monday”.

He checks over the car and starts scribbling something in a little blank black exercise book-

I say “you don’t have a receipt book?” and he responds “no but my friend has one,…. I need you to give me 3,000 shillings and can you go to court on Monday ” (I know that its either an instant fine or court but not both – but I’m on the defensive now and making like a drowning duck)

Me-  “please officer, you know I was only just over the speed limit, please forgive me, I don’t have the money and I can’t go to court on Monday”

Him “ok, just give me 3,000 cash and I’ll let you go”

Peter asks “what’s he saying?” and the cop asks angrily “what’s he saying”

Me “he’s asking about the fine, we don’t have the money”

Cop “ok, give me 2,000 cash and you can go”

“I don’t have 2,000″ I wail

“Ok, just give me 1,000 cash and I’ll forgive you” He puts his note book in his pocket

By now I’m pissed off. This is clearly soliciting for a  bribe.

Me “Sir, I have lived all my 42 years in Kenya and I have never given a bribe in Kenya and I’m not giving a bribe today. Please don’t ruin my record for me”

Him “Oh, you are older than me, ok just give me the 1000 shillings for lunch and then you can go”

“No, I’m not responsible for your lunch, …..” then i go out on a limb “you know corruption is what is ruining Kenya”

Peter is fidgeting uneasily at the conversation and rummaging around in his backpack

Cop “You are right, corruption is destroying our country” … he ponders “ok madam, just give me 100 shillings and you can go”.

I’m on the verge of bursting into laughter, I hold it in.

“no” I say and I recline my seat ready for a long stay on the road side.

The cop stares at me in disbelief, then he walks away momentarily his attention diverted by all the other cars that are watching us and passing him by, then he comes back and says

“Madam I am going to forgive you this time, please drive carefully”

I pull out and press the acceleartor carefully watching the cop through my rear view mirror as I tell Peter what transpired.We are both angry yet relieved.

I ask Peter what he was doing “looking for my BBC press badge, if all else fails with Kenyan cops just flash a press card and they step away “.

I realized too late that I didn’t get that damn cops name or badge number, next time I’ll be sure to send it along with a narrative to the Anti corruption officials. Quick calculation – if these cops at Gilgil are getting 1000 from every few cars that they stop they must be earning a good 30,000 each per day just be terrorizing us drivers. I just hope that they don’t sleep at night and all that ill gotten wealth makes them very very sick in mind, heart and body.

In most countries there is a 10% allowance – ie if the speed limit is 100kph you can get away with 110 but with a warning at most.

So here’s your ticket out of coersion into giving a bribe

1. Play ignorant – when they ask for chai or tea tell them you forgot your flask at home. If they say they are thirsty and ask for soda or water just tell them that you passed a kiosk and they can walk down.

2. If they find you guilty of anything just sit tight and ignore all the threats. If they insist on writing a ticket let them do it – its not in their interest to tie up the court with petty issues. I know of a kid who departed with Ksh 30,000 because he was afraid of going to jail for smoking  a cigarette in his car. Don’t assume you have to give a bribe.

3. Study the policemans/womans face, get their name and badge number – when you are in a particularly tight corner pretend you are totally ignorant, new to Kenya, and make a fake call to your lawyer make it obvious that you are writing it all down, and loudly tell the person what is happening – where it is and who the cop is say things like “oh, are you on your way?” Some cops get pissed off by this so play it by ear.

4. If they ask for a ride tell them its’ not your car and the owner is your boss and he/she does not allow it.

5. Tell them you have never given a bribe before. Hide your money and tell them you have none.

6. Don’t break the law, don’t use your phone in the car, overload, speed or drive with no lights at night.

7. Play ignorant, apologise, be friendly, praise them for doing such a good job..

No matter what, never bribe the police in Kenya.

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May 6, 2010 - Posted by | corruption, police

8 Comments »

  1. I suggest to always have a copy of an extract of Traffic act in your car – http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AY2t0o38sDfPZGMyajZnM2pfMTBjNGY2bXI5dA&hl=en – This is the one I made after that my wife had to go to court for a car windscreen crack !!! You can find in this doc the list of minor offences, so in your case, for a speed excess, fine is 100 Kshs (seems low).

    “I know that its either an instant fine or court but not both” – Well, not sure. It is instant fine if fine falls into the minor offences. Otherwise, you get a court order but usually you are asked to deposit some money (bond)… get your receipt, go to court where you will be reimbursed the difference (bond – fine).

    As you said, always be polite, get policeman name and id, always ask for receipt and if policeman wants a lift, they nicely no.

    Comment by TheBigBoss | May 6, 2010 | Reply

  2. Bravo! I agree: NEVER pay a bribe.

    I was stopped in exactly the same area – near Gilgil – doing over 80 in my rental Suzuki (a PSV, so speed limit only 80kph). My outcome was identical to yours but the route was different. Before he’d even had a chance to hint at the “instant fine”, I agreed it was all very unfortunate and I would indeed have to go to court in Nakuru. Being a tourist, that was extra-complicated, perhaps. He went to speak to a senior officer and came back with the good news that I was to be allowed to continue my holiday.

    But I wonder how many speeding drivers *ever* have their time in court.

    I think having a passenger film the whole episode on your VCR as a souvenir of the journey would also be quite effective. Or would that make things worse?

    Comment by Richard Trillo | May 6, 2010 | Reply

    • If you pulled out a VCR on the cops I think you’d be arrested for taking illegal film, and somehow a joint or 5 would be planted in your pocket together with child porn and you’d be facing a very different charge to ‘speeding’. These guys are amazing because they collect cash from drivers but the cash is passed on upwards through the heirarchy to the Officer commanding a station. If you don’t ‘raise cash’ you get demoted to working on issues other than road patrols. No wonder despite low pay, police recruiting exercises are massively over subscribed and the most lucrative position is road bloc attendant.

      Comment by paulakahumbu | May 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. Brilliant Paula, but you forgot the other Police line “… you must do the necessary.”
    How many bus & matatu drivers/ turn boys just payout as a matter of course, like a business expense? Petrol, oil, tyres, police bribes.

    Comment by Andy Kahumbu | May 7, 2010 | Reply

    • I’ve been watching and covertly photographing the Policeman/matatu driver handshake – why do they need to always shake hands with big grins? To hand over money of course. The police boss should instutute random shakedowns of traffic cops to see how much cash they’ve collected – except the shaker downers will probably have to be paid off to keep quiet.

      Comment by paulakahumbu | May 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. I sooooo agree with you. I paid a bribe once in my life in Zimbabwe and promised myself I would never do it again! So far so good. I hope tourists reading this realize that coming to Africa does not mean compromising your principles and paying bribes is not “part of the fun”. Just say NO!

    Comment by Marc N | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  5. – good idea, play dumb, admit nothing, & plead ignorance: the longer he keeps your car there, the more money he is losing by not ‘attending’ to other motorists, and chances are better he will let you go.
    – He also won’t take you to the station (he has no car) and he’s been put out on the road with a quota or target of cash to raise. If he fails at that, he will deployed to a less lucrative post
    – also traffic cops have white hats, any other cop e.g. the night patrols with black hats have no traffic book or authority to charge you – they are only about the shakedown

    Comment by bankelele | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  6. Another method which works, while you discuss with the cops, ask your partner (wife/husband) to become really angry in the car (shouting, beating the dashboard, etc.). Then, policeman will ask you what’s wrong… and just tell him that your partner is vey kali and will you have very bad time once you reach home !

    Stupid, I know but it works, believe me !!

    Comment by TheBigBoss | May 14, 2010 | Reply


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