Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Corruption - An Everyday Occurrence

There is a reason Uganda is ranked 111th in the world for corruption by Transparency International. Anyone who has spent a few months living here will have witnessed times when a sly backhander or brown envelope has sped up some bureaucratic process or paid off a grasping government official.

Today was a perfect little example. On my way back from work with Emmanuel, one of the boda-boda (motorbike) drivers I regularly use to commute with, we were forced to stop as a goods train crossed the road in front of us (no level crossings here). As the traffic was heavy we, along with many other boda-bodas, used the central reservation to snake our way to the front of the queue. Out of nowhere a plain-clothed law enforcement official jumped in front of us and took Emmanuel's key, his team quickly surrounding us while pointedly ignoring the half a dozen other motorbikes who were also not conforming to the 'highway code'.

I know you're probably thinking this sounds like a 'fair cop guv' - roads are for driving, central reservations are explicitly not - but to put it into context it not unusual for cars to drive on the pavement here. It is simply accepted in Kampala that more unorthodox methods of road use are necessary, and during the hundreds of times I have used boda-bodas, all of whom employ the same tactics, I had never been apprehended before. Anyway the combination of an enforced stop and the sight of a mzungu (white man) passenger, meant Emmanuel's bike was on the way to being impounded. It was at this point that I was considering my friend Abdul's tactic of acting out a phone call to the Minister of Internal Affairs. However, Emmanuel was soon back having 'apologised' for his misdemeanour. The cost of freedom? £3.05...

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