police corruption!

Greetings from Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Tonight my taxi driver (Capri) picked me up at 8:30 from the office, and soon after we were stopped by a traffic cop for a “routine inspection.”  He checked Capri’s license, inspected the headlights, called Capri out, then told us to go down to the police station.  Capri asked me to step out and look at the headlights: one was slightly dimmer than the other, but both were amply bright and this never would have warranted a citation in the United States.  This cop was looking for just one thing from the taxi with two Americans.

A bystander, a restaurant owner named Daouda [a variation of my own name], intervened and entreated the police officer until he relented and let us go.  Daouda then invited me to his restaurant, an invitation I will most definitely take him up on.

This wasn’t that unique; cops seek bribes all the time and in many countries, but tonight it struck me as particularly onerous, a stark sign of the subversion of the rule of law by money.  I can’t say I’ve never paid a bribe: Once I gave $20 to some Ugandan border guards after 45 minutes of interrogation and a threat of a jail.  But tonight I was prepared to go the mat.  [Of course, it’s easy to “be prepared” to go to the mat until one actually has to.  I had always imagined I’d be cool and collected if I were ever mugged, but the first time it happened – in Arusha, Tanzania, in 2000 – I was a disaster.]

1 thought on “police corruption!”

  1. The traffic cops in Nairobi are the scourge of the road, as if the bombed-out surface didn’t make it bad enough. They’ll set up a road-block at the worst times and stop you for no reason. Oddly, whenever they cite some so-called problem, and you tell them you’ll gladly pay the fine if they write you a ticket, they just wave you on. A taxi driver is such easy prey, but friends with red UN number plates never seem to get pulled over. No one is fooled.

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