The Road Chose Me – Bribes on the Ivory Coast
By: Dan Grec
As a rule, I avoid paying bribes at all costs. I believe it is really important for a number of reasons. First of all, if I pay a bribe today, that official will expect an even bigger payment from the next traveler he comes across, so I would be making the journey that much harder for those following in my footsteps. Secondly, bribe money is obviously not taxed, so it goes straight into the pocket of some greedy official, and will never help the average person on the street. Thirdly, and most importantly, I simply can not afford to pay bribes every time I am asked. In my two year trip it would easily be ten thousand dollars, spare money I simply do not have.
With all of that being said, I was pleasantly surprised at the border of Ivory Coast when the customs official said the temporary import paperwork was free, and I would just have to get it entered into the computer in the next major city. It certainly sounded simple enough at the time.
A few days later I pay a visit to the head Customs building, and quickly realize that speaking French is a big mistake. My second mistake is parking the Jeep inside the Customs compound, where everyone can see it, and they have some degree of control over it – if they close the gate it’s effectively trapped. “The Colonel” is called, and after a ten minute wait I am introduced to a very smartly dressed man, wearing multiple gold watches who everyone seems very quick to please. Shortly after sitting in his office and explaining that I’d like a computerized version of the Temporary Import Permit I got at the border, he looks me square in the face and says that because I’m a white guy with money, I will give him 50,000CFA ($100 USD) for it.
Normally cool in these situations, something about his attitude has me rattled right away. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m tired, or because I was not mentally prepared for this, or because I’m doing it all in French and only understanding about 60% of what is said to me. Whatever the case, I know I’m in trouble. He really seems like the kind of no nonsense man who will impound my Jeep without a second thought, and that scares me. He laughs at my request for a receipt, and he is now holding my hand-written paperwork and registration, so it’s not like I can just drive to the border and leave the country. I explain that I sleep in my car because I don’t have a lot of money, and thankfully my shirt is kind of grubby, so he believes that I have not had a shower in a few days (true). Eventually he comes down to 30,000 CFA ($60 USD), which he puts into his top drawer while his minion types up the details.
I’m really not happy to pay bribes, especially when they are so large, but something about the whole exchange felt very wrong to me.
All things considered, I’m happy to leave the area still in possession of my Jeep!
Never a dull day traveling in West Africa.