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Category Archives: Life in Kenya

Caught Part III – Jail

Gaoled (Photo Credit: Black Politics Today)

Gaoled (Photo Credit: Black Politics Today)

They had just finished cleaning it. The Kibera Law Courts jail is best described as a square room with a long, continuous, narrow (and of course heavily-grilled) window running along the top (next to the ceiling). Within the larger square of the jail is a smaller square in one corner. This smaller square comprises what we shall politely call the ablutions. The trouble with the ablutions is that the wall of the ablutions does not extend all the way up to the ceiling of the containing main room/square. For this reason, the smell stink stench that inexorably rises up from the jailhouse facilities permeates determinedly through the entire room. Doubly so if the door is open. Deciding whether to endure higher concentrations of the malodourous fumes seeping from that toilet in order to go and close the toilet door and thereby lessen the fumes is a taxing exercise in circular logic. But apart from this, the jail was actually pretty clean.

I asked the cops supervising the jail if one could perhaps offset their fine and the cash bail.

“Ati off-nini? Offset? Hapana huwezi offset fine yako na bail yako Boss, we toa kimbelembele yako hapa. Kaa huko na ungojee mtu wako.”

I set about finding a way to pay the fine. I called a friend of mine who gave me a rider’s number and also sent that rider KES 7,000 to deposit at the bank for my fine (thank you so much!). This rider seemed quite well-versed in proceedings.

“Pole sikusikia call yako, nilikuwa na-ride bike.”

“Sawa tu, ulipata SMS yangu iko na hizo account details?”

“Nimeiget. Nikuulize…?

“Ehe?”

“Uko mashimoni?”

“Ee, mazeh…”

[Merry laughter] “Wacha nta-come saa hii.”

He and I haggled a bit about the cost of what he was doing for me, and I ended up paying him KES 720. I should probably have paid him KES 500 (though we did start off at 1K). But he knew exactly what needed to be done, reliable chap. What the extra 20 bob was for, we shall come back to later.

Moving swiftly on

In about an hour, the trusty rider on his noble steed boda-boda had arrived, bank slip in hand, and obtained a receipt which he was able to use to have me released.

Once your fine has found its circuitous and serpentine way into the labyrinth that is the Judiciary’s coffers, there remains the small matter of recovering your bail. As you know, the purpose of paying bail is to make sure you appear in court. If you do appear in court, you are entitled to a refund of said bail. The process beggars belief. You see, when you post bail you pay it either to the cops on the road, or you pay it at a cop station. The police station to which those cops are attached, or the station at which you pay it, is important here. Because on the day you appear in court, dear reader, an officer from that particular cop station must come with the bail that you paid during the weekend and return the very bail you posted. So when I asked for my bail I was asked:

“Station gani?” 

“Kabete.” 

“Haya ngojea hapo.”

Luckily mine came before my trusty rider arrived because a lady officer from Kabete Police Station was already at the Law Courts with the money. My bail was selected from a sheaf of notes that appeared miraculously from quite literally under her belt. One hapless offender was slightly less fortunate. He had posted his bail at Kiserian Police Station and was appearing before the Magistrate at the Kibera Law Courts. This poor fellow availed himself in court, his case was heard, judgement was passed, he tumana’d to KCB Account No ___________, his fine was paid, the deposit slip was brought, a receipt was obtained, it was presented at the cells, and he was released…

…then he had to wait for the ka-Landrover to come all the way from Kiserian Police Station, negotiating Bomas traffic and all, to bring his bail.

Conclusion

The small matter of my rider's motorbike (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The small matter of my rider’s motorbike (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Friends, I don’t know which reforms Chief Justice Mutunga, former Registrar Shollei and Inspector-General Kimaiyo have been carrying out, but as a recent though temporary guest of the State I believe I am well-qualified to say that I am yet to see them. Is it not the Kenyan Judiciary and Police they have been reforming? Juu mi’ sioni! What an inefficient system! You miss work, the guy who you call to run that errand for you is also not working… in this day and age where we have computers, MPesa, and man has been to the moon, if someone has to wait for someone else to pay their own fines for them at the bank then come and get them out of jail, we must be reforming backwards.

I further fail to understand why money has to be physically brought from Kiserian to Kibera in a police vehicle for offenders to get their bail refunds. The powers that be in the Kenya Police must similarly be using a very loose definition of the term “reform”. At some point I began to think that I had ended up in hot soup in order to see these things for myself.

Before I conclude, dear reader, you may recall that I promised to return to the small matter of why I paid the rider KES 720 instead of KES 700. Do you know what the 20 bob was for? It was so that the rider could pay the askari at the gate of the Kibera Law Courts so that his motorbike was not stolen therefrom while he was getting me out. Yes. We live in a country where your motorbike can actually be stolen from the premises of the Law Courts themselves. Ati a guy just comes in wearing those fluorescent jackets emblazoned “Waititu for Governor”, hotwires the thing and disappears.

In the language of the court, I rest my case.

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Caught Part II – In Court

In Court

In Court (Photo Credit: Neo Today)

To be honest, I toyed with the idea of not going to court and foregoing bail since I had my licence back, but the lawyer we met on Saturday advised me to go to Court. So it was that on Sunday I called my boss and explained the situation, and on Monday I went to court. I was there before 8:00 am but Courts rarely start sitting before 9:00 am. Take your time if this ever happens to you.

The session began, and a number of cases were read out before mine was. It was through these cases that I discovered what happens if you don’t appear in court. The process is as follows:

  1. Your name is called out.
  2. The prosecutor reads out your sin(s).
  3. If you’re present, the judge decides whether there will be a hearing that day (lengthy cases, perhaps crimes). If it’s an offence he/she will pass judgement.
  4. HOWEVER if it is established that the accused has not deigned to appear in court the judge simply says: “Cash bail forfeited to the State, warrant of arrest issued.” Next!

So the chance you’re taking by not appearing in court is that the police won’t come looking for you. It’s perhaps a risk worth taking, except that they ask for your phone number when you’re paying bail, so if they really wanted to they could nab you. But I think they have neither the time nor the motivation to look for a traffic offender. If they do look for you, and if they find you, dear reader rest assured that your bail-posting days are over. You will be hauled by the seat of your over-speeding pants straight to jail until court time.

Anyway, court was pretty quick. I stood up when I was called, I confirmed that the allegations were correct, and the Judge fined me KES 7,000. I had heard horror stories of KES 30,000 (the Naivasha court is particularly notorious) so on balance, it wasn’t too bad…

…or so I thought. For that was when the fun and games began.

Paying your fine

Some of the still-available payment methods in the Kenyan judicial system (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the ancient payment methods still applicable in the Kenyan judicial system (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I had carried KES 20,000 to Court, so I was ready to pay. But my spirited and determined efforts to pay my fine were thwarted by the belated discovery that one is not in fact allowed to pay one’s own fine. I abruptly found myself being escorted at a brisk pace to the Kibera Law Courts gaol. During this regrettably short journey I was brusquely informed by yet another officer of the law that I had to locate and instruct someone who could go and:

  1. Deposit the cash for me in KCB Account Name “Judiciary Kibera Law Courts” Account no __________________
  2. Bring the deposit slip to Kibera Law Courts
  3. Obtain a receipt from the Kibera Law Courts
  4. Present it at the cells and thereby
  5. Get me released.

I told the cop who was taking me to jail that I had brought myself to court, so it was unlikely I’d run away post-judgement. I actually asked him to let me go pay and come back. Ah the naïveté of ignorance…

“Hatufanyangi namna hiyo Boss. Tafuta mtu aende akulipie. Na ni kwa nini hukuongea na officer?”

“Hapana, unajua mi sihongangi…”

“Sisemi kuhonga…” [I honestly don’t know what else he meant, and he did not take the trouble to elaborate.]

Suddenly, I was in jail.

Next: Jail

 
 

Caught Part I – Flagged Down

Flagged Down

#ThatVeryAwkwardMoment (Photo credit: Afro Autos)

I had been wondering why all the cars, buses, matatus were going up that hill in one long line on the right-hand lane of the dual carriageway. Kumbe it was so that cops couldn’t spot their number-plates and flag them down for speeding. I pulled out to the left to overtake the dawdling queue and was promptly flagged down myself. The cop asked for my licence and I gave it to him, following which he informed me that I had been driving at 118 kph instead of 110 kph.

Naturally, there ensued what we shall call a warm discussion. Since it was very likely that I had been doing 118 kph earlier, and since I had been told that the evidence is incontrovertible (a photo of your car, superimposed with the illegal speed at which it has recently been travelling), I began by trying to tell the policeman that really 8kph above the limit was not that much. He asked me: “Wewe unataka tusimamishe watu wanaenda spidi ya ngapi?” (“At what speed would you prefer us to start flagging people down?”)

I advised myself to abandon this line of argument.

Pressing his point home, the policeman helpfully showed me the cash-bail receipt of an individual who’d been doing 114 kph instead of 110 kph. My sin began to look blacker and blacker. I comforted myself when I saw that there was a Subaru B4 driver who had been caught doing a rather nippy 144 kph.

Since I couldn’t convince the cop to let me off, I decided to bite the bullet. I believe if you’ve done wrong and the law catches you, then you should allow yourself to be dealt with as the law stipulates. One simple way of fighting corruption is by not being corrupt. Simple, I said. Not necessarily easy.

Bail

Bail (Photo Credit: Business Daily http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/-/539552/1203156/-/view/printVersion/-/116iygez/-/index.html)

Bail (Photo Credit: Business Daily)

Now you see, for offences including traffic offences (different from crimes), one is supposed to be taken to court immediately, where the magistrate pronounces your judgement haraka-upess. Except it was the weekend. So courts were not in session. So I couldn’t be taken to court. So I was supposed to go to jail, until such time as the courts would open on Monday. Only that this could be avoided by paying bail. But bail was KES 5,000. Which I didn’t have.

Huna kwa MPesa?

“Hapana.”

Haya we ngojea hapo, tuite polisi mwenzetu kutoka Kabete (we were towards LIMURU), akupeleke ATM, utoe pesa, ukuje station, ulipe bail.

“Officer uko na licence yangu. Wacha nikimbie niwithdraw, halafu nilete Kabete.”

“Hapana! Licence zimejaa kwa station, hatuachiliangi watu namna hiyo siku hizi.”

And so it was that I had to wait until a policewoman came all the way from Kabete Police Station and was assigned to me to ensure that I paid bail. I had been rushing to meet my good friend and our lawyer over something, so I called ahead to let them know I’d be late. When the policewoman arrived, she was given my licence, and we got into the car and set off for the nearest ATM.

“Mbona umekasirika namna hiyo?” [Standard Police/Government procedure is to put you on the back foot and/or on the defensive and then take things from there]

“Hapana sijakasirika officer.” And truly I wasn’t annoyed.

“Sasa utalipa namna gani?”

“Nataka tu nikimbie kwa ATM ni-withdraw, halafu turudi Kabete.”

“Bank gani?”

“StanChart.”

“ATM iko wapi?”

“Westlands.”

“Aiiii… huko ni mbali sana, mi siwezi enda mpaka huko. We fanya hivi, tukifika Kabete, uingie police station uache gari yako hapo kwa station. Panda matatu kutoka Kabete mpaka Westlands, utoe pesa halafu urudi Kabete Police Station ulipe bail ndio tukupatie gari yako we uende.”

“Hapana officer, Westlands sio mbali sana, na hatutachukua muda mrefu. Twende tu.”

“Uko na lunch?” [No doubt that while creating the problem, this was what the cunning female had been leading up to all along]

“Officer, kama ni lunch, wacha twende tu police station.”

<PAUSE>

“Haya basi, twende u-withdraw.”

At the Mobil opposite Njuguna’s I spotted a StanChart ATM, so I managed to withdraw a lot quicker than we had anticipated. Afterwards we went to the police station, I posted bail, they took down my phone number, receipted my payment, returned my driving licence, and advised me to be at Kibera Law Courts on Monday morning. Happily, considering the circumstances, I got to the meeting only 30 minutes late.

Next: In Court

 
 

Thoughts on the Night Travel Ban

Gateway to Auckland

Photo credit: Man’s Pic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The National Transport and Safety Authority recently introduced new rules that included a ban on night travel by Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) in the country.

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t used a matatu for a couple of years, please try it! And carry your kids along. That is how the majority of Kenyans live, but once we have been “blessed with a car” and start using it to get around, we forget very, very quickly. Personally, I fear that this ban has been effected by elitists who haven’t used public transport in the last decade. Perhaps these policymakers can’t remember when they last went to “Shagz” by bus. Perhaps their children are dropped off at school by drivers. Perhaps they buy their veggies at Galleria as opposed to Marigiti. There is nothing wrong with living like that at all, but that is not how the majority of Kenyans live, and policy should be made with the interests of the majority in mind (the greatest good).

Now I’m certainly not condoning loss of life. We should protect every Kenyan’s life (from Westgate to Ntulele to Moyale), for every Kenyan’s life is invaluable. Undeniably, the directive has reduced road carnage, and another very good outcome is that the bus companies are feeling the pinch and beginning to understand the importance of safety. But to punish travellers for the sins of operators doesn’t really make sense.

Take for example the case of the trader who travels to Uganda by night, buys goods during the day (kitenge material I hear), and travels back with them the following night. He/she now has to spend two nights in Uganda, on top of the transport cost. That extra cost will be shared with his/her customer, or at worst just loaded onto them.

Rather than pulverizing mosquitos with hammers, let us start from the point that matatus have been forced to operate within savings and credit cooperatives (saccos). The Government should stipulate that any bus company/matatu sacco/PSV marque whose vehicle is involved in a road accident with a fatality/serious injury should be banned from having ANY of their vehicles on the road for a month. Further, if a company has three fatal accidents within a specified period (say 2 years) then the Directors of that company (or the owners of matatus in that Sacco) should be permanently banned from operating PSVs (to prevent the Directors from just starting new companies).

These two measures may not be entirely fool-proof, but:

  1. They’re simple,
  2. They can be implemented immediately,
  3. They allow night travel to continue,
  4. They’re a little easier to implement than ensuring there are working speed governors in every vehicle, or giving the police handheld speed cameras (these sorts of measures merely become a personal source of revenue for police),
  5. Most importantly, they shift the responsibility for road safety away from the travellers, away from the (massively corrupt) traffic police, and onto the vehicle owners, where it belongs.

Finally, at the root of the carnage in the transport sector is the corrupt nature of the traffic police. Inevitably, buses like the one that crashed at Ntulele have passed numerous road-blocks before their doom. We should remember that any lasting solutions to our troubles should involve as little human intervention as possible; more detailed and rigid solutions, especially involving GPS trackers, can be implemented.

But we can start with those two simple directives.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Economics, Life in Kenya, Politics

 

Dunga, Tafadhali! (The Budding Gourmet’s Guide to Lunch in Nairobi)

Workers the world over look forward to that hallowed period of time called lunch-hour. During these sixty golden minutes, people fill their bellies, strike up lasting relationships, and have a bit of time to carry out extra-curricular activities without incurring the wrath of their employers for being out of the office during working hours.

Nowhere is this hour more cherished than in Nairobi (indeed, I am writing this post within that sacred time). Kenya is a country where employees are famed for their ability to arrive in the morning, hang their coats, strew some papers on their desks and vanish for the day. Some employees have perfected the art to the point that a day’s work consists merely of replacing yesterday’s coat with today’s, and placing the papers on the desk in a more modern state of disarray. This onerous task is performed at the crack of dawn to avoid awkward encounters with inquisitive colleagues. In such a country, the chance for some legitimate time off is jumped at.

Lunchtime in Nairobi, for many, is not whiled away at the New Stanley Hotel. Nor is it spent ensconced in the lounges of the Nairobi Serena. There is a huge demand for affordable lunch in Nairobi. To cater to this demand, anywhere an office/college/factory/workshop springs up in Nairobi, it is almost inevitable that there will be a long, low-slung mabati establishment providing sustenance to famished employees. Some of the best meals I’ve eaten have come from these roadside taverns.

If there is one word that can be used to describe these haunts, that word is “thrift”. Even the entrance is likely to be small; one generally has to stoop to get in. The interior is generally quite dark, and takes some getting used to, owing to a shortage of light. This all-pervading thrift ethic can even be observed in the use of floor space. As little floor space as possible is taken up with tables. This saved floor space is used instead for chairs. It is not uncommon to find a multitude of 5 or so people elbowing their way through their midday victuals at a table meant for a more romantic 2.

The nomenclature of these places can range from the puzzling to the creative. I have never been able to understand the reasoning behind the name of a small chips-and-soda at Campus that was called “The Hidden Agenda”. More recently (not by much!), a new establishment has sprung up along a road I frequent called “Snuggles”. There is an even more intriguing slogan next to this name: “Let’s snuggle”.

There are a couple more facts which the tourist to Nairobi would do well to be informed of. Generally, the cashier’s office lair is situated near the exits. Bad debts are rare in this business as one cannot abscond without paying. Also, prices are likely to be highly variable in nature. I am not talking about month-on-month inflation here. I have been in places where the first chapati will be 10 bob, and subsequent ones will cost a sudden 20. Forewarned, friends, is forearmed.

The rest of this article will devote itself to the explaining commonly-used terms in these restaurants.

1. Dunga

Chapatis can be served either just the way they are, or if the eater so prefers, they can be served rolled up and speared on the end of a fork. This is a personal favourite. Many is the time I have allowed myself the simple pleasure of having my teeth sink softly through multiple luscious layers of chapati arranged as just described upon a fork…

2. Kando-Kando

Some establishments provide lunchers with the choice of whether to have all their food on a tray, or to have the main course served separately from the stew (kando-kando). The choice may seem obvious, but these Scrooges of the restaurant business have found ways of serving precious little on very narrow trays. The solution is to ask for kando-kando so as to obtain credible portions of each.

3. Nyuma Mbili

This is a term I was told evolved from a place that served fish and ugali exclusively. The main course and the stew being cast in stone, the only thing the client can choose is which half of the fish he would prefer. If the eater prefers the front part of the fish – kichwa – or the rear – nyuma – he may order a full meal by simply stating the relevant fish-half. Nyuma mbili hence means two full ugali-and-fish-tail meals.

4. Supu Escort

All too often, while eating, the happy gastronome will be brought up short by the unhappy circumstance that his ugali has outlasted his soup. At no extra cost, the eater can remedy this unfortunate situation by applying for Supu Escort. This is just what it sounds like – a bit of soup to aid the remaining ugali smartly down the hatch.

5. Ugali Wembe

This is a solution for the reverse of the circumstances related above; should your soup outlast your ugali, then this sliver of ugali, at no extra cost, is for you.

Bon appetit, mes amis.

 
20 Comments

Posted by on March 17, 2006 in Life in Kenya