Wednesday, August 22, 2007

corruption in Kenya

BBC reports that Kenyan police is one of the most corrupt ones in the world (according to Transparency International). Why I am not surprised...

During our last year's holidays in Kenya we ended up getting to know the chief of Nairobi Police Department.
We made a mistake of renting a car from local, Kenyan, company, instead of using one of the trusted European or American ones (like Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europecar - they had them all). Stupidly we decided to go for "Kanga tours". I kind of liked the idea of supporting the local economy, so I was initially fine with that. But after the first day of our "adventures" with the car, I was strongly advocating for returning it and getting a decent car from other, this time internationally known, company.
Just to give you an idea, here is list of things that went wrong with the car during 10 days that we used it:

  • Our troubles started already 5 minutes after we rented the car. After we stopped at a gas station to tank it, we could not start engine anymore. With help of local mechanics we realized that there was loose connection between the battery and the engine. It was good that we learned it there, as the same thing happened to us two days later, when we were on a safari in Masai Mara NP. So when the car did not want to start again when we are just 10 meters away from the group of several lions, we did not have to waste time on figuring out what is wrong. Fede got out of the car, tightened the loose connection and we could start driving again. Luckily lions were not interested in us as they had just have breakfast. But you can imagine that the situation was still pretty tense for us.
  • On the second day that we had this car, the bonnet opened while we were driving totally obscuring the view. We were lucky that this did not happened on the highway, but on not so busy road in the national park.
  • We got 3 flat tires during these 10 days (though I have to admit that roads were terrible there, so maybe that's normal).
  • When we were going through Masai land next to Amboseli NP, a gear changing stick disconnected from the gear changing box (sorry, I do not know proper words for these things, but I guess that you get a picture) and for some time two people had to be involved into gear changing, but luckily after some time it somehow repaired itself.
  • On one beautiful day when it started raining our car decided to stop and not move anymore - a mechanic concluded that the fuel pump was blocked and cleaned it for us (can you imagine? he completely disassembled it, cleaned each single part and put it back together... in any normal country when the fuel pump gets broken, you get a new one as nobody will spend 24h on cleaning it).
  • Although our car was 4WD, I think the four-wheel drive mode never worked.
  • Also the engine of the car was somehow weak, even on the highway we had troubles going faster than 80km/h.
  • Luxuries like: radio, air-conditioning were not working (but who cares anyway).
  • 2 out of 4 door were not opening from inside.
  • Occasionally, after you opened the window, you could not close it - we had to move it up holding the glass between our hands.
  • I have no idea how that happened but the front lights of the car somehow moved up, which meant that they were not providing good illumination of the road for us and at the same time they were blinding all drivers coming from the opposite direction. So all the other drivers thought that we are using our long beams and were switching on their long beams, making driving for us even harder...
  • Part of car's mask (above the front wheel on the driver's side) was loose and we had to use a climbing road to secure it tightly to the car.

I guess that is more or less it. Not much as for 10 days, right? At least our car kept us busy and entertained and thanks to its malfunction we got better to know Kenyan way of doing business.
The best part was, however, when we came back to Nairobi and complained to the car owner about the car. His response was more than amazing. He basically claimed that we ruined his car. He behaved as if he had given give us a new car, and we would be trying to give him back this 20-year old wreck. So he claimed that we owed him money and refused to give us back our caution money (and that was a lot of money, around 800$ if I remember correctly). We argued with him for around half a day and in the end we all went to the central police station of Nairobi. I was surprised that there we got immediately led to the chief of the department and that he, himself, was questioning all of us. I was also surprised that there was no other policeman present at that time in the room and that nobody was taking notes of what we were saying. Towards the end of that meeting it was more and more clear to us that he was friends with the car rental company owner and that there was no fair way out for us from that situation. However, thanks to our persistence and all the arguing we at least got part of our money back loosing only around 250$.
I guess the worst part of all that was that because we rented car from this highly unreliable company we lost lots of time of our precious holidays. First, we lost half a day waiting for the car rental company to hand over the car with all the documents to us. Then we lost lots of time every time that we had to repair the car ourselves or have it repaired by mechanics (it would add up to more than a day). We also lost half a day when we argued to get our caution money back. And finally, we also lost half a day and an opportunity to go to Tanzania.
When we tried to cross Kenyan-Tanzanian border we found out that we were missing an important document that was necessary to get customs clearance for the car. So we got stuck for few hours in no-land between Kenya and Tanzania waiting for the rental company owner to show up with the missing document. I remember Fede calling him and shouting: "We are f**king stuck here on the f**king border and it is all your fault." Local salesman were looking at him terrified and were telling us to tell him to relax. We told them back that Fede was Italian and that all Italians were like that. I also remember them telling us in ironic way after hearing about our troubles with the car: "Africa, hakuna matata", which means "Africa, no problem".
But there was a problem and we did not like the solution that was offered to it.

This nice poster was hanging on the wall of Kenyan customs office in Namanga:

Here, Jochen, Elena, Fede and I (not a picture) are waiting in tension for the outcome of the negotiations between the rental company car owner and the chief of customs office in Namanga:

This is document which would allow us to take the rental car to Tanzania. We had tried to obtain it unsuccessfully for the past three hours and we were told that we could not get it as we were missing important car documents. Then, the car rental company owner showed up (still without all necessary documents) and all of a sudden we were issued the document we needed to cross Tanzanian border:

(Sorry for the poor quality of this photo - I was taking this picture in a hurry after I stole (!!!) this document from the customs office.)

You might think that there was a happy end - we wanted to cross the border, the guy who owns the car rental company came and "solved" the problem, so we should be happy. But he made a mistake - he told us that he had to pay a bribe (not high, equivalent of 40-50$). We decided that we could not allow that and that we could not possibly be part of that. That giving up once, is giving up always. And that Kenya would never change if tourists would obediently agree on paying the bribes. So we refused to cross the border and started a BIG argument involving lots of shouting from both sides and attracting a lot of attention both from local people and other white tourists passing the border.
But we were proud of ourselves and I still stand behind our decision even though it meant not seeing Ngorongoro Crater, which is one of my biggest life dreams.