The tall and smartly dressed, seemingly proud traffic police officer walks on to the side of the road. He looks right, he looks left, he looks right again and on seeing that the road is clear, he does not cross. This was the point that I wished school children were behind him and that he was illustrating to them how to safely cross the road. But he was not. He instead bends down to pick the 50 shillings note that the conductor of our car dropped “accidentally on purpose” as we went past the police check point. He pockets it and almost immediately raises his hands, ordering the other fast approaching passenger vehicles to come to a halt.
On this particular day, i am very curios. I have always been sure that a transaction of some kind was taking place between the police and the PSV operators, but it was discreet to the point it not only puzzled but annoyed me as well. In an effort to understand what actually transpires, I racked my brain every time I traveled. I kept a vigilant eye on all the culprits every time we were ordered to stop by the mean looking, well fed traffic police. But then it hit me, we never really stopped; we only slowed before taking off again at the usual speeds. So this was a transaction in motion. I was sure that physical contact was out of the picture for none had transpired for the period that I kept vigil. So what actually happens?
Kenya has been privy to the exclusive exposes by our media that have exposed our officers receiving bribes. From the toll stations to our roads, our corrupt officers have been victims of the camera lens, casts in movie they did not audition for. Our traffic officers have been caught in the act so many times, and for that, I would like to commend them for their resolve in soldiering on in their corrupt ways. I would further like to acclaim their ability to reinvent themselves. They have managed to innovate and adopt new ways every time one of their corruption mechanisms is unraveled. In retrospect, I would like you to accompany me back down the memory lane.
We are familiar with the golden handshakes between our corrupt officers and our unscrupulous passenger vehicle operators. With very hand shake, money changed hands, with hand shake serving a smokescreen. On this being discovered, our officers did not let this fetter them. They moved on to the next one. I t was an effort to win over the publics trust while corruption reigned. They were now stricter with the drivers, never failing to ask them for their drivers’ license among other documents. Unbeknown to the larger public was the fact that in between the drivers licence was always the bribe. Rumours exposed this practice, and still unperturbed, they adopted yet another strategy, to which the above mentioned officer was a beneficiary.
What transpired was this. The traffic officer ordered us to stop, which we did not. I was sitting next to the driver and could see what was happening through the side mirror. As we slowed down, with our car approaching the side of the road, the window where the conductor was sitting slid open, but just slightly, enough for him to slip a few fingers out. It was the driver who drew my attention there for he was fixated on the side mirror. Looking closely enough, I saw a fifty shillings note, rolled up to resemble half a cigarette, neatly tucked between the conductors fingers. His fingers dangle there until the officer makes eye contact with the money, the drivers eyes are now on the officers and when he is sure that the officers has seen the money, he engages the next gear. The conductor lets go of the money as we speed off.
This was a smooth and clandestine operation executed by experts. Others that I a have been privy to have fallen short of the elegance required. One case in particular left every passenger aware of the transaction. First the conductor slid open the whole window, then took out his whole hand and just dropped the money. The drivers open gaze at the traffic officer also reeked of guilt. The officer himself was like a bad actor who does not seem to know better than to look into the camera. His head was facing north, but his eyes easily gave him away. They would dart around their sockets, looking at everything, and nothing, before, for brief yet frequent stints resting on the money. It was only natural that all passengers followed where his eyes frequently rested. It could be the case that even fellow officers took note of this, thus necessitating a change in approach in several check points.
Now the drivers stash the cash beforehand into the door latches of the cars. When ordered to stop, the officers while “inspecting” the car just reach into the door and retrieve the money. The absence of conversions and contact between the corruptor and the corruptee only leaves room for speculation, but no hard facts.
My hope is that such vigour, innovation, and resolve to take bribes notwithstanding the obvious dangers could be applied in legitimate practices. Maybe then, they would not have to take bribes for their houses would be in order, thus catering for everyone’s needs, their justification for taking bribes usually being their meager salaries and demoralization. Why don’t they get demoralized and stop taking bribes when their colleagues are caught and arraigned in caught for corruption?
This is just some more food for thought for our Kenyan disciplined forces who have been ranked the most corrupt for three years in a row.
A good friend just shared with me a customized joke showing how things are done in kenya. It goes…,
“Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the state house in Nairobi. One is from America, the other one from China and the last one from Kenya. They go with a state house official to examine the fence. The American contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. “Well,” he says “I figure the job will run about Kenya Shillings (Kshs.) 900,000: Kshs. 400,000 for materials, Kshs. 400,000 for my crew and Kshs. 100,000 profit for me.” The Chinese contractor also does some measuring and figuring then says, “I can do this job for Kshs. 700,000: Kshs 300,000 for materials, Kshs. 300,000 for my crew and Kshs. 100,000 profit for me.” The Kenyan contractor does not measure or figure, but leans over to the state house official and whispers, “Kshs. 2.7 Million.” The official, incredulous, says, “You did not even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?” The Kenyan contractor whispers back, “Kshs.1 million for me, Kshs. 1 million for you, and we hire the guy from China to fix the fence.” “Done!” rseplies the Government official.”
I laughed myself silly, but then I became sad afterward.