A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about corruption

How to Deal with Bribery Attempts

Many in Africa see white people as money bags, this is especially true of Guinean officers

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“All tourists must carry their Tourist Identity Card on them, at all times, or go to jail,” the soldier told me. This was the essential part of the conversation. This was what they needed me to believe was true. Not necessarily to convince me fully, the slightest tremor of doubt would be enough. However, they were unarmed, and I was buying none of it.

Not everybody are this friendlya

Not everybody are this friendlya

Bribery attempts often rely on two factors. First, the officials take advantage of the fact that you, as a visitor, is not familiar with local laws. This can lead to rather amusing accusations like “your passport is not valid at night” or “travelling alone on this road isn't allowed.” Secondly, that the threat they are making scares you enough for you to pay up. Threats of big(ger) fines, jail or dragging you to the police station are typical favourites.
Needless to say, it's a lot harder for your wallet to escape unharmed if you have actually broken the law. Though most officials prefer to do as little paperwork as possible - if any paperwork is required in said country, that is - so if your crime is small enough it can be possible to get away with minor offences simply by being a foreigner.

Kids playing in the streets

Kids playing in the streets

On this particular day, the sun was shining. A rarity in Conakry. Guinea’s capital is one of the wettest in the world. I was strolling along the garbage littered streets, doing what little sightseeing the city offer. Like many other African capitals, there isn't very much to see regarding “typical” sights. Mostly, it comes down to massive government buildings and independence monuments. Conakry doesn't even have an Independence Square - just to illustrate how few places of interest there are here.

Strolling past the Presidential Palace, I made sure to keep my camera out of sight. Photographing strategically important buildings is begging for trouble in most developing countries - like throwing eggs at a police car back home. The guards were hanging out at a small guard house behind a movable paling - like the ones lining the streets at a cycling race to keep spectators off the road. As they notice me, one starts to shout for me to move away from the gate and walk over to the opposite sidewalk. Another waves me over to the low fence. A third is simply lounging on a small wooden bench. Typically, not even in front of the Presidential Palace are the soldiers well enough trained to act with any accordance to professional principles. I walk over to them to figure out whether or not I'm allowed to use this sidewalk as the locals around seemingly doesn't care too much about which side of the road they are using.

Presidential Palace gate

Presidential Palace gate

The guy who told me to switch sidewalks leaves immediately for some reason, while the other two invite me behind the palings for a chat. This effectively traps me between the soldiers, their guard house, a wall and the palings. Realise my mistake instantly, I initially go for a very friendly approach. A method that includes introducing myself, shaking hands, talk a lot about football and smiling excessively. It only kind of works.

The soldiers ask for my papers. As my passport is at the Mali embassy for visa procedures, so I offer them a curled up photocopy of my passport’s identification page and my Guinea visa. This doesn't go down well with the soldiers, but I manage to explain to them that the embassies wouldn't be allowed to keep my documents overnight is the law states that I should have my original passport on me at all times. This logic is enough to make them accept the photocopies. It's not sufficient to make them happy about it. They then dismiss my enquiry into how excited they are for the Spanish Football League’s opening matches the coming weekend.

Conakry's only tourist attraction

Conakry's only tourist attraction

They then ask for what is the centrepiece of their bribery attempt: my local identification card. I don't have one.
“But everyone living here has one,” they say.
“But I'm not a resident, I'm a tourist, so I don't have a resident’s card,” I reply. They are unimpressed.
“All tourists must carry their Tourist Identity Card on them, at all times, or go to jail” they retort.

At this point, it's clear they want a bribe to let me back out into the street. We discuss the imaginary ID card for a bit. Me telling them I know there is no such thing as a Tourist Identity Card, they insist that I have to go to jail if I don't have such a card.

Tourists are staying away

Tourists are staying away

This time, it's my turn to be unimpressed. No chance in hell such a card exists. Driving through numerous checkpoints upcountry and encountering other tourists here in Conakry, talks about such a card have never come up. The jail talk is essentially just a scare tactic that all bribery attempts need. Something worse than paying the “fine” upfront. However, the soldiers can't leave their post, and all their friends around the gate are wholly uninterested in our little discussion.

I decide that I can't be bothered. I decide to leave. Normally, in these cases, that is relatively easy. I just say I firm “Goodbye” and walk off. Usually, this comes as a profound surprise to the people who are bothering me. Usually, I get far enough away before they can do nothing more than shout angrily after me as I leave them behind. This wasn't one of those usual times.

Edging my way through the palings, one of the soldiers grabs me and keeps me from leaving. I'm bigger than him, and he is unarmed. So is his buddy. But getting into a struggle with the soldiers could probably get me into some real trouble. I decide to walk back.

At this point, the soldiers make it clear to me that I can't leave before I've paid them. Finally, we're past the point of non-existing ID cards and not-going-to-happen jail sentences.

With independence came corruption

With independence came corruption

I tell them it's corruption.
They assure me that it's not - it's simply an “arrangement.”
I repeat that it's corruption and that I'm not going to pay them anything.
They repeat that then I can't leave.

I shrug. This is fine by me. I don't need to be anywhere and eventually - even if it isn't before the end of their shift - they will get into trouble for having let a tourist inside the barriers. I sit down on one of their benches, lean back on their guard house and put my feet up on another bench. Once comfortable, I only tell them, “Fine; I can wait” and slide my hat down in front of my eyes ready to take a nap, Indiana Jones style.

Conakry selfies to celebrate freedom

Conakry selfies to celebrate freedom

At this point, it takes less than three seconds for them to give up. “Okay, you can go” is all they mutter. I leave quickly, resisting the urge to look back at them to show the big, smug smile that is growing on my face. I'd won. Once again I'd won and avoided contributing to a system already ridden with corruption. 83 countries travelled: 0 bribes paid.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:34 Archived in Guinea Tagged travel police africa travelling guinea west_africa corruption officers corrupt officials bribery Comments (1)

When Travel doesn’t Go According to Plan

It’s impossible to plan your way our of everything – or to have all your plans go accordingly. This is especially true in West Africa - sometimes you just have to improvise and luck out.

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I (try to) plan too much

I (try to) plan too much

It’s three o’clock in the morning, and I have just arrived in Praia’s (Cape Verde’s capital) small international airport. The airport’s only cash machine is out of money, the one exchange bureau is closed, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, the only café doesn’t take international credit cards, and I can’t check in to my hostel before 10 o’clock. Like at home, things doesn’t always go my way when travelling. To be honest, since travellers, by definition, are new to most places we show up in, have no idea about local arrangements and often don’t speak the languish, our plans probably goes wrong more often than others’. So to give you a little idea about how that turns out here’s a small buffet from the last few days were things haven’t gone as smooth as I’d liked them to go.

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Ariving to Podor by Pirogue

Crossing from Mauritania to Senegal – as with any border crossing – hustlers tend to be around en masse to offer you a dreadful rate for any money you would like to change. I figured I’d avoid them and change my money somewhere else. On the Mauritanian side of the Senegal River, that constitutes the border, was nothing but a small village. On the Senegal side, the provincial capital of Podor seemed like the more promising place to find a proper place to change. This assessment quickly turned out to be wrong. Nobody in Podor wanted Mauritanian money, and if anyone offered to change it would be at rate 1.5 – not the official 1.8 rate. The difference would cost me around 15 Euro, which given that there was no bank in town would mean that I wouldn’t have enough money to get all the way to Dakar. As it was late, I seriously began to consider whether I would have to walk out of town to pitch my tent for the night, as I couldn’t pay my hotel room.

Hotel had a frog-problem

Hotel had a frog-problem

The only thing I had going for me, was that a local student had befriended me. He knew the manager of the hotel I wanted to stay in, and he somehow convinced (the drunk) the manager to let me postpone the payment of the first night, so I had a chance to return to Mauritania the next day and try changing my money in the village. I just needed to give him my passport as a guarantee. Fine. Or at least that was all right until I went down to the river the next day, where the pirogues did the crossing. Since I needed to leave Senegal, the border police wanted my passport. Somehow, I managed to explain the situation to them in some broken French, pointing out that without my passport I wouldn’t be allowed to stay in Mauritania anyway. I simply had to come back. Leaving my “national ID” (read: my driver’s license) with the border police as a guarantee for my return, I was allowed to cross. On the Mauritanian shore, the border official on duty insisted that he handled the change of my money. Always a bit worried about African officials and money, I had no choice. My lack of trust, however, was put thoroughly to shame. The official made the change with some local Senegalese boys who had crossed with me and insisted on what was essential a fair rate for both parties. When I didn’t have the last few cents to complete the transfer at the correct rate, he even paid for it himself to make everything work out! So while it was some extra hassle to correct my initial blunder of not changing the Mauritania money before I left the country, everything worked out eventually.

Eventually I made it

Eventually I made it

And things often end up working out for me. Stupid, but lucky, remember? Leaving Podor, I had 18 hours to make the 400 km to Dakar to catch a flight to Cape Verde. Something that might or might not be possible in West Africa depending on where you are. Here in Senegal, it should be possible as half of the distance was between Dakar and Senegal’s second city, Saint Louis. In other words, there is plenty of traffic and good roads. Getting out of Podor quickly became an issue, through. I’d checked at the bus station the day before if there was a vehicle to Saint Louis this morning. “Yes, yes, it leaves at 7.” Okay. So I was at the bus station a little past six, just in case – only to get the message that there was no car to Saint Louis. Sigh… Instead, I could take another car 20 km to a crossroad, from where there would be onward transport to Saint Louis. Of course, there wasn’t. There was, however, a car to the city at the halfway point. T.I.A. (This Is Africa). I was running out of money too, so all I got for breakfast/lunch was a few biscuits; I only did not dare to spend any money on food as long as there was unpaid transport ahead of me – and taking it in small steps are more expensive than making it in one long stretch. But I lucked out again. At the halfway town a car going directly to Dakar just needed two more passengers. Conveniently, I was one such passenger, and suddenly I had made it to the airport in Dakar in just under 10 hours. A complete success; so much so that I now had an eight-hour wait at the airport – at least here were food!

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Praia means 'beach' - fooled again

Which then brings us back to this post’s introduction: arriving on Cape Verde in the middle of the night without any usable currency (again) and a hostel I couldn’t check in to. As any sensible idiot would have done, I decide to postpone all these problems a few hours. The airport benches were luckily not those with armrests between each seat, so I was able to get some sleep without the humiliation of lying on the floor in a corner of the entrance hall.
The situation hadn’t improved when I woke a few hours later. Still no money in the machine, still no clerk in the changing booth, and thus still no food. However, Cape Verde is a small place, so the airport is just 5 km outside the town. Figured I could walk that – maybe someone would even pick me up… and voilà, a minibus stopped for me almost instantly. Once inside I explained I needed to get to a bank to get out money before I was able to pay for the ride. This was not a problem, so we happily drove into town. To my surprise, we stopped just a kilometre short of the city centre where everybody was transferred to another minibus. Here the driver didn’t really get my rather poor effort to explain in Portuguese, that I didn’t have any money. Instead, he just figured that my destination was a bank; he then proceeds to drop me off at such a building in the centre. Here he, to my bewilderment, just drove off without any further explanation. Somehow I’d managed to get into town, with two bus rides without having to pay anything. I took out some money, found the location of my hostel in a nearby café that had both breakfast and Wi-Fi, and went to check myself in.

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

Eventually I could enjoy, Praia

What I’m trying to get at with these examples is first that travelling in Africa rarely works out as planned. Secondly, that if you have a little flair (and are willing to overnight in airports), everything usually works out just fine in the end. Somehow. And while every day isn’t as chaotic as those three described above, the examples are plenty and could probably fill out a whole blog if I was to record them all.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 03:51 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged travel airport praia planning dakar corruption mauritania senegal podor cape_verde Comments (0)

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