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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