They accuse them of speeding despite no signage, detain them for hours instead of granting bail, threaten them with trips to distant courts and extort them for accident reports that favour insurance claims
As his wife packed travel bags in the boot of their car, Andrew Mwangi walked around shops, seeking change for a Sh1,000 note. This is something he does every time he is travelling, so he can have money to bribe the police in case he is stopped.
“I break the money into Sh100 notes, which I give to the police when stopped on the road. You know if you give them the whole Sh1,000 note, they cannot give change,” Andrew said.
Depending on what the police decide to accuse him of, Andrew gives a bribe of between Sh100 and Sh1,000. “These people only stop you to get money, not necessarily for a genuine check,” he said.
On that particular journey, he spent Sh1,100 between Nairobi and Mombasa on bribing. “I would rather give them the money and continue with the journey instead of wasting time,” he said.
Andrew is just one example of many Kenyans who set aside bribe money while on Kenyan roads. Police even mount roadblocks, where they collect money from drivers afraid of being taken to court.
Andrew remembers one time he tried to be adamant and one officer approached him, saying, “Unajua kotini inakuanga ngumu sana. Toa tu hii kidogo tukuachilie (You know in court there are inconveniences. Pay a bribe we set you free).”
Elsewhere, Felix Owiti had to pay a bribe to police officers in Umoja after he was involved in a minor accident a week ago. “I scratched someone’s car who, after we failed to agree, approached police officers who were nearby,” Owiti says.
As expected, the officers asked the two to drive to the police station, but they were both unwilling. The two would later agree that Owiti pays for the damaged car, but the officers refused to leave the scene without a bribe of Sh2,000. “Twendeni station basi,” the officers told them harshly.
Owiti stepped in and started bargaining with them. They later agreed to take Sh1,000. “It is easier to give them the money instead of wasting time with them,” he said.
INSURANCE, SPEEDING PLOYS
Police also ask for bribes so as to write favourable reports to insurance companies after accidents. “I recently hit a car from the rear and the officer who came to the site asked for money so he could write a ‘good’ report since I wanted the insurance to repair the car,” says Eunice Mathai.
“Unajua ni wewe uko na makosa na insurance itakataa kukulipa,” the officer told her. She, however, refused to bow to pressure and asked him to just write what he saw.
Motorists on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway have also found themselves in trouble when they are stopped and told they were speeding. The highway lacks clear road signs indicating areas where the 50km per hour speed limit restriction begins and ends.
Former Star digital editor Joseph Kariuki was recently arrested at Timboroa on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway and accused of speeding. Kariuki, who believes in justice, refused to give a bribe that the police arresting him openly asked for.
He instead asked them to book him in for a case. “Do you know you will be forced to travel all the way to Eldama Ravine court to attend to your case if you become adamant?” an officer asked him.
Kariuki, however, insisted on being booked. “I was given a bail of Sh5,000 for speeding at 68km/h at a section the cops said I was to drive at 50km/h in Timboroa, a highway,” he said.
Kariuki said he counted more than 20 vehicles that had been stopped with him, but only two of them refused to give a bribe. “We were so many drivers. Sadly, most of them paid bribes,” he said.
Kariuki would then be required to travel for about 250km from Nairobi to attend court the following Wednesday. “This is what the police take advantage of. They know people cannot afford to travel all the way, hence it is easier for them to blackmail travellers,” he said.
He was charged with exceeding the speed limit, contrary to Section 42 ( 1 ) as read with Section 43 ( 1 ) of the Traffic Act Cap 403. The police said Kariuki was driving at 68kph, yet he was supposed to drive at 50kph on the section.
Although Kariuki was driving a Honda Fit, the charge sheet indicated he was driving a Toyota Honda, a model that does not exist. He was released on Sh5,000 bail. The case will be mentioned on June 6, when he will be required to travel again from Nairobi, where he is based, to attend court.
His lawyer Juma Olago, who has also been arrested several times for traffic offences, says they will follow the case to the end, adding that traffic offences have become more of a nuisance than a law enforcement mechanism.
“The system is very inefficient. It victimises those who decide to go by the book and pursue their rights,” he said.
Juma remembers one incident when he was arrested for lane discipline in Salgaa, and the officers literally punished him for refusing to pay a bribe.
“I was arrested at 9am, and believe me I was still at the police station at 3pm, as the officers tried to persuade me to change my mind and instead give them a bribe, which they had gradually reduced from Sh10,000 to Sh2,000,” Olago said.
He said the officers become difficult and purposely frustrate the process of giving cash bail to the people who refuse to go their way. He would go to court on the date he was given and plead guilty to the offence.
Olago said petty traffic offences are crowding the judiciary, leading to a backlog. “It is a waste of judicial time to take to court a traffic offender willing to plead guilty. There should be a way to allow such people to pay fines without attending court. For example, attach their fines to their tax,” Olago said.
He said the justice system has failed to protect motorists from errant officers.
On Kenha speed signages, Olago said they should be clearly erected at places where they are visible to all motorists. “At the moment, those signages are traps being used by the police to get bribes,” he said.
Hawa watu ukiwaona hapa ni wezi (These people when you see them here, they are thieves)
Bus driver at Waiyaki Way roadblock
The fare-collecting public transport crew are a low-lying fruit for traffic police. On Waiyaki Way, police have a permanent roadblock right outside Kabete Police Station, where they stop and take bribes from buses and matatus.
Matatu drivers we spoke to said they part with Sh50 every time they are stopped, while buses part with Sh100. “Hawa watu ukiwaona hapa ni wezi (These people when you see them here, they are thieves),” said a bus driver who declined to be named, referring to the police officers manning the roadblock.
The driver said he had been stopped five times that day, each time giving out Sh100. “Never trust a police officer, even if he is your brother or sister. They are all corrupt,” the driver said.
Wahome Thuku, an advocate of the High Court, says the problem with traffic laws in Kenya is that the system of charging offenders is not well structured, and it competes with corruption in terms of punishment.
“Say, speeding has a fine of Sh20,000 when bribe for the same is Sh2,000. Again they create too much room for the discretion of the magistrate,” Wahome said.
He says every offender should know the exact fine even before going to court. “At the moment, offenders are left at the mercies of corrupt police and the judiciary,” he said.
Wahome, who has been charged in court on traffic matters and won in all the cases, says police roadblocks are a waste of time. “They make offenders predict where enforcement is. Mobile police is the best.”
He has been a campaigner against police impunity and has been presenting persons wrongly accused with traffic offences. “I defend people who are framed for failing to pay bribes. I never defend people who have not been wrongly accused. I wouldn’t fight it if someone was properly accused,” he said.
The newly appointed police boss Hillary Mutyambai, who took office a month ago, says corruption on the roads is one of the issues he plans to address soon.
“Yes, I do have an idea of reducing roadblocks and making the remaining ones centres of reducing corruption,” Mutyambai said during a phone interview.
Though he says it is still a concept he is still looking at, he said the roadblocks will have DCI officers and even have CCTV cameras mounted.