After almost a year of thorough research and extensive in-field testing through Africa, here are 10 suggestions for easing your way through border posts and sweet talking your way past the traffic police stops, hopefully without having to give anyone a “soda”, the latest way of asking for a bribe in some parts of Africa!
1. Be happy.
Officials don’t often come across friendly people. They will likely be prepared to have a ‘difficult conversation’ with you. So disarm them with happiness. They won’t quite know how to react!
As you are pulled over, wind down both driver and passenger windows. Remove shades. Smile a lot. Shake everyone’s hands enthusiastically as if they are friends you haven’t seen for a while. Engage in time wasting chit chat: “Hello, how are you today? It’s hot isn’t it? Has it been like this for a while?”
(This can be used with any of the suggestions below, and indeed makes them all the more effective!)
Officer: “Don’t you have a soda for me?”
A: “No, not today, but wow, what a lovely voice you have. And you’re so well spoken. Surely you should have a radio show or be on TV.”
3. Endless jokes about Ven’s name
Officer: “Yoh, that’s a long name! How do you say it?”
Ven: “Why don’t you have a go first?”
Officer: “Tira… Yoh, that’s too difficult. How many letters does it have?” etc. etc.
(NB: this suggestion does rely on having a long or difficult to pronounce name. You may wish to consider changing it by deed poll for your trip. If this is not possible, please see 4)
4. Football talk (usually works better with male officers)
“What football team do you support?….. Ah yes, they’re a good team. How are they doing?…..Which player is doing well this season?…..”
5. Overwhelm with paperwork
Keep the documents from various border posts and receipts from campsites and pile them into your car docs folder. It will hopefully make officers less convinced that they could bribe you on a paperwork irregularity.
Officer: “Where’s your driver’s licence?”
Pull out the huge folder with lots of documents.
Ven: “Just one moment. Yes, here it is.”
Officer: “Where’s the licence disc on the windscreen?”
Ven: “Here’s the car’s international licence documents. Because it’s a foreign registered car it has its own international documents. We had it stamped at the border when we entered your country. Look here’s the stamp. We also have the road tax and fuel levy receipts……”
Officer: “Where’s your fire extinguisher certificate?”
Ven: “Patience Thembile at the border crossing said that it was no longer needed for foreign vehicles.” (Pull out random piece of paper). “Look, here’s her number, and she said you must call her if there are any questions. She was a very nice lady.”
6. Ask for directions… and keep asking!
Officer: “Where are you going?”
Pick a random destination that’s a little off the main road. “We’re going to …. How far is it and where do we turn?”
And then double and triple check. “Ok, so straight and then after 40km turn right…. oh sorry turn left…. And is it a nice place?…. So just to be sure, we turn left and go straight for 80km….. ah yes, sorry, go straight for 40km and then turn left…..”
7. Take a broader perspective when responding to questions.
The responses will be true, yet bizarre enough to divert the ‘soda conversation’.
Officer in North or East African country: “Where are you going?”
(Anticipated response: a nearby town)
Actual response: “South Africa”
Officer: “Yoh, that’s a long way!”
Continued response: “We’re on a long trip, driving to South Africa. We’ve been on the road for 3 months…..”
Officer: “Where are you coming from?”
(Anticipated response: a nearby town)
Actual response: “We’re coming from the UK. That’s where we’re from, but our families come from Outer Mongolia….”
8. Enthusiasm for the country
Ven used this to talk his way out of a genuine speeding fine.
Just as the officer is working his way up to asking for a little something…. “We love your country. Everyone is so kind, and hard working and honest. There’s lots of anti-corruption posters everywhere. We have such lovely memories of your country. It would be a shame if we remembered this as one of our last memories here….”
9. Do your laundry the day before a border crossing
Customs officer: “Anything to declare? Drugs?”
Customs officer: “Firearms?”
Customs officer: “Any meat or dairy products?”
Customs officer: “I still need to search your vehicle.”
A: “No problem. Go ahead. Sorry about the mess. We did our laundry yesterday and our underwear is still drying in the cargo net behind us!”
When he finds a stash of foreign currency notes in your wallet and asks how much they are worth:
A: “Oooh, about £50, but I need that to buy more underwear and clothes when we get to the capital as everything’s got holes and rips in them. Look….”
10. Appear to have all the time in the world
Appearing in a rush to get somewhere means an officer will delay you as much as they can. They know you’re more likely to ‘give them a soda’ to get on your way.
However, if an officer believes that you are wasting their time more than they are wasting yours, and that easier ‘business opportunities’ are passing by, they will give up.
Good luck with your journey. Be wise, act clueless, and have fun!