Monday, May 12, 2014

What Do You Have For Me?

Over my first eight months here, I was only stopped by the police once.  This May, I have been stopped three times.  Has corruption found us?  Here are two incidents. 

Scene 1:  I am slowly approaching a police checkpoint on the road leaving Naivasha town.  I am following all traffic laws.  Eric is in the car.  A police officer holding an AK-47 waives for me to pull over.  I do so, and he approaches my driver’s side window.  

Officer: What do you have for me today?
Me: Are you asking for money?   
Officer: No, I am not asking for money.  But what do you have for me?
 Me:  Well, I have my international driver’s license and my American driver’s license.  Do you want to see those?
Officer:  No, I do not want to see those.  What else do you have for me?
Me:  What do you mean?  Are you asking for 200 shillings?
Officer:  No, I am not asking.  But if you have something to give me, then I will take it.
Me:  If I don’t give you anything, may I leave?
Officer:  Yes, you may leave.
[Awkward pause as we look at each other]
Me:  Ok, then I am going to leave.

I drive off. 

20 minutes later, I am returning on the same road.  This time, a Kenyan army official (also holding an AK-47) waves for us to pull over at the same spot.

Army Official: Hi.
Me:  Hi.
Army Official:  License.
I hand him my license.
Me:  We were just pulled over 20 minutes ago at this same spot.
No response.  He checks my insurance sticker and looks in our trunk. 
Army Official: Ok, you may go.

Scene 2:  I am slowly approaching a police checkpoint at night on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway after picking up dinner.  I have four American medical residents in the car with me.  A police officer (holding an AK-47) waves for us to pull over.

Officer: Hi, how are you?
Our group:  Hi, we are fine.
The officer looks at us.  We look back. Nobody says anything.  Finally:
Officer:  Where are you going?
Me:  We just picked up dinner and we are heading home.
Again, the officer looks at us.  We look back.  Nobody says anything.  I finally ask:
Me:  Do you want something?
Officer: It’s cold out tonight. 
Our group:  Yes, it’s cold.  We hope you stay warm.
Again, awkward pause. The officer looks at us.  We look back.  Nobody says anything. 
Me:  May we leave?
Officer: Yes, you may leave.

We drive off.

Why did they let us go? Do they let Kenyan drivers go?  And why the increased police checkpoints?   
We know the answer to the latter.  Since the Westgate Attack, there is increasing violence in Kenya linked to Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group based in bordering Somalia.  In response, Kenya arrested thousands of undocumented Somali refugees, immigrants and even citizens.  In Nairobi, hundreds of Somalis were collected from the Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh and moved to large detention centers, such as the Nairobi soccer stadium.  The conditions of the centers and the treatment of the detainees has been quite poor.  The act seems worryingly similar to the U.S. imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  

As part of the heightened security, Kenya increased their number of police checkpoints on highways.  Unfortunately, the increased security has provided more opportunities for corruption.  Eastleigh residents reported that police were confiscating their ID’s and refusing to return them without bribes (see the two links above).  Matatus (taxi vans) traveling the Nairobi-Nakuru highway pay 1,000-3,000 shillings a day in bribes.   If they refuse, they face arrest and a 10,000 shilling fee.  The thousands of Kenyans who rely on the matatus to travel to work must pay higher fares as a result.

The National Police Service has well-earned reputation of being the most corrupt institution in the country.  Part of the blame rests with the Kenyan government, who underfund their police.  For example, even after Westgate, the Kenyan government granted their anti-terror security force only 2,205 U.S. dollars for the months of January, February and March.  By comparison, each member of Kenya’s parliament were given 45,000 U.S. dollars in salary during that time.

However, if being underpaid was an allowable excuse for corruption.  Most Kenyan drivers have to pay bribes, which brings me back to my first question: why did I not have to pay?  Disappointingly, it is probably because I am white, and they fear I would make considerable “noise.” Years of corruption and the not-to-distant memory of the oppressive Moi regime have left Kenyans understandably shy of raising a ruckus, or “making noise.”  The police may fear that white (and often wealthy) people in Kenya are more willing to make noise about corruption.  Again, it is the poor Kenyan citizens who have no such agency, and no choice but to pay.  

Why should foreigners like Camille and I have this power?  It makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.  

Currently, there are some police-led campaigns to end corruption.  Change must come from within.  The pressing need, and the real difficulty, is finding persuasive and ideological leaders to inspire the change.  Actually, we could use some similar leaders in the U.S. as well.  While corruption in Kenya may be more blatant, it occurs just as much in the US, in the form of government contracts, favors to campaign donors, and friendly ears for lobbyists.  If my favorite President, Lincoln, was still alive, he might argue that the U.S. is no longer a democratic government "of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but a government, “of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.”  But that is whole other post.

View from our lawn over the neighbor's house.  Lake Naivasha.

OK, Dada, I'll tell them.... Hi peeps, this is Eric now writing.   I was in big trouble this week.  I was caught red-handed:

1. Stealing freshly picked oranges while wearing Mommy's slippers, one of them backwards.

um, Hi
 2.  Smacking Mommy with palm reeds I found outside.

um, Hi Dada
So, they sent me to jail. 

I was bad.
I learned my less...hahaha, no I didn't.  Afterwards, Dada spun me around and we posed all funny.  Overall, it was still a good day.  Mama, where did you put those slippers...?

Happy Mother's Day, Mommy

I still sleep in a Pack N Play WAAAAAHHHHHHH!
Q: What do turtles use to communicate? A: A shellphone

I'll leave you with the giant tortoise we found in the neighbor's yard.  Eric threw his tennis ball at the beast, and then was very mad that I didn't let him jump on it. 
 Thanks for reading!


  1. As much fun as you have had --- I am glad you are coming home soon--I will pay Eric's Bail. Dad

  2. Please let Eric know that he chose a super Mother's Day gift for his Mommy!! And I am glad to read that his Pop will provide the bail money for our little rascal. Love to all, MOM (aka Nana)

  3. What a fascinating post Dan!


    ...Happy Birthday! Check you iTunes account for a present!

    Love you

  4. Happy Birthday Danny-----Can't wait to see you in person!!

  5. Happy Birthday Dan. We remember the dinner in DC just before Jeffrey's graduation when we celebrated both your's and Jeffrey's birthdays!
    We really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to seeing you, Camille and especially meeting Eric sometime in the DC area next year.
    Linda and Rick Rubens

  6. D -

    Liz had a similar experience with the police in Sheffield many years ago. She was minding her own business, driving from Sheffield to Gt. Barrington on Route 7. Suddenly her rear view mirror was filled with blue lights. With a last minute set of instructions about being quiet to her 7 year-old daughter sitting in the passenger seat, she pulled over. The policeman approached from behind . . . lights still flashing . . . and, when Liz put her window down the policeman reached through the window and said, "Here is the DARE mug I wanted you to have, ma'am." The officer then went back to his cruiser and drove away . . . any thoughts about who that officer might have been???

    On a serious note, I am glad that your experiences did not have any impact other than the concern of the moment . . . and the lasting reflections about why they happened . . .

    Let me add to the list of birthday wishes . . . continued good health and hopes for a positive finish to a wonderful experience.