Tourism Corruption in Kenya 

Corruption exists in many forms across the world. Travelling often exposes the many forms this can take. I can remember arriving Delhi in the early hours of the morning with a group of school children, on our way north to Dharamsala, to set up a sports carnival for Tibetan Refugees. We had with us some extra bags with equipment for our project and a large box, in it a basketball pole and hoop. Our friendly customs official took exception to this particular parcel and demanded import duty to be paid immediately. Despite our explanations that this was to be a gift for the children and every possible gesticulation to attempt to explain its purpose, this particular customs official was not going to budge.

It is well known that most officials in India are corrupt and it now appeared that I would need to grease his palm with 'baksheesh' to allow our party to pass through easily. I prepared myself for the all-important bribe. Rustling in my pocket, I secured an appropriate rupee note and subtly allowed it to be seen by the official in front of me. What happened next was most unexpected. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by many more officials and police, all of whom were shouting in Hindi about the gall of this Englishman (me, I suspect). It became apparent, that I may have antagonised the official and made the situation a little worst. Later I realised that I had tried to bribe someone in full view of his superior, nearly losing him his job. No wonder he was a little angry!

It was time for plan B. I approached another official to negotiate the duty to be paid on the equipment. This proved to be equally difficult as the man had no clue what was in the box despite the picture on the side in glorious technicolour. I could see myself still at the airport at dawn, In a desperate attempt to explain further, I opened my wallet to reveal a picture of my 9year old son - he took this to mean that I wanted to see pictures of his family and shared his snaps of family and friends. After we had got to know each other in this typical Indian way, I was waved through customs like an old friend.

So, there's no corruption in India eh? Not quite. Two days later our driver was stopped by police for apparently overtaking illegally. Once we had coughed up the $10 bribe, we were allowed to continue!

Whilst in Kenya, a different type of corruption surfaced. By a roadside café one day, I got chatting with Mustofa a keen 6'3" salesman, eager to sell, trade and just get something from me. The sales teams here in Kenya are very industrious. Prices start ludicrously high in an attempt to get you to bid a lower price. Once bid, the battle begins and the house always wins! The Kenyans will trade old t.shirts, sunglasses (as long as you are wearing them - muzunga items carry more value), and pretty much anything you have on you. There are as many scams as there are Kenyans - one is ingenious and not exclusive to Africa. The so called 'change' scam. Here's how it works. The boy, invariably the younger the better, will ask the tourist their name and country, as always, and then politely for odd coins from their 'own country' as 'souvenir'. A harmless request that almost always results in the tourist giving over some odd change they had in their pocket from the airport. The tourist feels happy that a young boy is so interested in their home land and the youngster is building his world coin collection. Well if that was it, we would all be living in a snow-white, fairy-tale world, let me tell you! What happens next is the entrepreneurial move. Once you have bid farewell to the poor boy clutching worthless coins from back home, he sets about business finding another tourist from the same country. Once tracked down, the local will please and amaze this other tourist with his amazing knowledge of foreign lands and coins. By now, the tourist will naturally be impressed and the scam is nearly complete. The boy will then innocently ask the value of said coins in local currency (can you smell it yet?). With this information, he will ask the tourist to act as a 'money-changer' and convert it to local currency for him, explaining that although he would dearly love to keep his coin collection, he has to also feed his brothers and sisters. Who could refuse such a request?

Anyway, back to Mustofa and our little chat. Once we had gone past the fact that I was not in the market for a Maasai spear and did not want to trade my shorts or give any 'money from your country' - we had a rather sobering conversation. It all began when I complimented him on his command of the English language and an enquiry into why he hadn't secured a more financially rewarding job that would match his skills. His answer was startling.

"Here in Kenya" he began, "qualifications don't get you a job, only money does that. If I want a particular job, then I must pay for it. I must bribe the employer."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In order to get a job, you need money. If there was ever a 'catch 22', this was it. This 'problem' or corruption, he explained is one of the main reasons for the level and consistency of poverty found here in Kenya. They simply cannot escape it. It is a vicious circle that entraps them. Mustofa was not put off by his country's corrupt employment methodology though. He is ambitious and very nearly got to be a soldier. Mustofa told me of how he sold two of his family goats to raise enough money to bribe a Captain with booze in order to get in the army. All went well until the morning after the night before, when the Captain could not remember Mustofa or the promises he had made. Despite letters of recommendation, he failed to even get an interview. It is hardly any wonder why crime is so rampant here - they really do not have any options.

Another day, I was told that when a person does actually get a job, the corruption does not end there. The new employee must now pay a percentage of their salary each month to their new employee for giving them the job. This blackmail is indefinite.

All this is very sad - mainly because there is no solution. Nothing can be done to alleviate this level of corruption from this society. What is even sadder is the reality of how very unfortunate it is here - what can an intelligent, ambitious person do? Nothing. Whereas, we have all the choices and opportunities imaginable when it comes to our future and often squander it. We are always reminded to cherish what we have and be thankful but no truer thing can be emphasised here. We are so lucky to be living in a society that allows ambition to flourish and encourage enterprise to grow. Let us live each of our 'tax free' working days as if we are lucky to have it.
Bus to Dar

Deciding to take the bus was never a choice at all. There were no trains and we had decided long ago to overland ten African countries and were determined to do it. There was a choice between the 'posh' (by African standards) Scandinavian Line and the more down to earth, Akamba. Travelling for one year often means choosing the least expensive option, so the half price Akamba always seemed more attractive. Still a little hesitant about it's safety record, we decided to visit both offices to make an informed decision. The decision was made for us by the Scandinavian company being full - so Akamba it was with promises of individual arm rests, reading light and DVD player.

On the day of travel we took a taxi to the bus station, having being warned of the unsavouriness of this part of town. Watching out for each other, we waited patiently for our bus to arrive. At first we were a little concerned that we would get on the right one and so we asked several other people if this was the bus to Dar. Confident now, we pushed our way onto Akamba's finest and secured the front two seats, a decision we would later regret. Immediately we questioned one another. Could this possibly be the bus described by the Akamba agent only 48 hours earlier. We had seen a 'rickety' old bus standing outside their office and he described the bus we would be taking as 'different class', in an attempt to comfort us. This bus was different class indeed - it was worst!

We left on time giving us no chance to reconsider our fate - we were the only foreigners aboard. Within two hours we cruised up to the Tanzanian border and our hearts began to race again knowing that our Kenyan visa was way out of date! The Kenyan official didn't even raise his head as he stamped each passport placed before him. We were no exception. Then we ambled over the border crossing towards a 'shed-like' construction - this was the Tanzanian Immigration building. I pondered why it takes five days to obtain a visa for Tanzania in London when here within seconds of us passing over the appropriate fee, a three month visa is issued without a second glance

Clearing customs was an equally simple process. It involved us carrying our bags into a tiny annex of the immigration hut and receiving a chalked 'x' upon our bags.

The landscape is noticeably different here - amongst the plains of Africa, there are mountains and although we didn't get to actually see the beast, due to low cloud, we knew that we were brushing passed the mighty Kilimanjaro for the first time. As we sped along the straight highways that separated each village, our nerves began to twitch again as our view brought about cause for concern. Along the road, women dressed in brightly coloured clothing (bright enough to make any green-cross code fan proud), carrying loads of many shapes and sizes on their heads and children herding goats, became the focus of our concern. Our Akamba driver seems not to even notice them clinging to the edge of the road as he 'steams' past. Every now and then, we get so close that we actually force them from the pavement onto the adjacent ditch. I cannot bring myself to watch any longer. I feel sure there will be a collision at any moment. Thankfully, the Tanzanian government must share our concern as it has invested thousands of shillings in the construction of many 'sleeping policemen' in an attempt to slow Akamba bus drivers down and preserve women and children.

By mid-afternoon, we, that is the whole bus, were starving. I am confident about this by the way people left the bus when we arrived at Tanzania's equivalent of the Little Chef. I followed curiously and was lead to a dark hatch, from where endless chicken and chips were produced instantaneously. We would learn later that this is Africa's main fare. Within ten minutes, our driver was back aboard, honking his horn to summon us all back. He had devoured his 'bird' and couldn't understand why everyone else hadn't. All part of the cunning Akamba plan though, as we would discover.

You see, they wait until the passengers are really hungry and the food stop will only take minutes. Passengers will return to the bus feeling full and within a few minutes, sleepy. They rely on the fact that their passengers will actually fall asleep, because they really don't want you to be awake for the night driving! This was where we realised that our seat selection had been so poor. It is difficult to describe the last two hours of that journey without it sounding like something from theme park. The only difference between this ride and one at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is that the latter only lasts three minutes, whereas our journey seemed infinite. Our driver had either eaten kilos of carrots as a young man and could see in the dark, or he was a madman. I know where my money lay.

Too many close shaves to mention - no hair left on the bus!! One with Akamba's competition, Scandanavian nearly killed us outright. I can't say actually how close we did come to collision, because I had closed my eyes and began to pray by then! Finally we arrived, or so we thought. We tried to disembark rather hastily at a weighbridge, 40km away from Dar! Wishful thinking! Soon though, we did arrive and booked ourselves into a guesthouse for the night. The type of place that always makes me question why I am travelling in the first place! The perfect end to perfect day! Akuna Matata as they say here with amazing frequency - no problem!
comments 0 # 06/01/10, 18:42

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