Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mugged On The Way To Mombassa

On the way to Mombassa my wife and I were mugged. Not by some thugs hiding in a dark corner, but by men dressed in blue uniforms in broad daylight.

We were about twenty minutes from Keynote International Airport for our flight from Nairobi to the coast when we came upon a police check. Not too concerned, the taxi driver rolled down his window and yielded the appropriate papers to the attending officer. Another policemen on the passenger side of the car knocked on the window for my wife to roll down her window. The mugger then said, “You are not wearing your seat belts. We are taking you to the police station where you will pay a fine.”

I was so taken back I just started blabbering, “We don’t have time to go the police station, we have a plane to catch.”

The mugger in blue said the fine would be Ks 3000 ($46). I said that was unreasonable and offered a third of that, which he quickly agreed. Pulling out the money he told me to put in the drivers license card, as he did not want others to see the stolen cash.

As we drove away I was outraged…furious at myself for not having the presence of mind to handle this mugging differently. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to deal with official extortion and there are better ways I could have handled the situation. Tips for those who face the same situation:

One, tell the officer, “Okay, take me to the police station.” It’s a hardcore bluff, which they may call you on, so be ready to play it out. Usually they will back down if you show resolve that you are willing to comply with threats of detainment.

Two, ask them their name, with pen and paper in hand, telling them you will be reporting their action before the authorities.

Three, plead ignorance. Kenyan police don’t know what to do with someone who says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

Four, tell them you want a receipt for the money they are charging for on the spot. They won’t do it of course, so prepared to follow through with suggestion number one.

My greatest outrage was with the corruption perpetrated by the man with the badge. I am a visitor to the country and they were not enforcing law but out on the street looking for opportunities to prey on the innocent. In a recent local newspaper article it noted that corruption is most prevalent among policeman, followed by politicians. Since I don’t know the law of passengers in a taxi I have no idea if we violated the law or not. If it was a violation was it my responsibility to pay the fine or the responsibility of the taxi driver to make sure his passengers were buckled up?

Willing to abide by the law, if the officer had written me a ticket I would have complied with the rules of the country, but it was obvious to me the law was secondary to their agenda. I regret the mugging, but more than being violated in the name of the law, I am disappointed with my feeble response. Maybe I should have handed the money and with a smile and a “God bless you.” Naw, what I really wanted to say was “God will curse you for this,” and “You will receive a plague of boils for this unjust act.” Boy, I can’t wait until the next time I get stopped. I’m prepared.