I don’t think when I lived in Kenya that I ever needed to pay a bribe. Nor Rwanda. I once paid a bribe at the border in Uganda, because I had just crossed into Congo and had to go back to Uganda and didn’t feel like paying $30 for a one month visa when I was only going to be there for a day before I headed to Congo via Rwanda instead.
But overall, it was really not part of the culture. Why, then, is it so ubiquitous in Congo? What has happened here that elicits constant solicitation?
During our brief time in Kinshasa, in our $100 taxi ride to the office from the airport, we had a discussion of this topic with Bola, the immigrations officer who helped us with our transport and helped us out of $50.
I asked him whether his cost of living in Kinshasa was so high that he constantly needed more money, and he told me that he made $100 a month, but that his house cost $200 a month in rent. And he had 4 children and a wife. Thankfully, just one.
I asked him how it was possible to make rent when it was so much more than his salary, and he replied, very honestly, “Well, I need gifts from my friends.”
He continued on to say that we certainly didn’t have to give him any money, but that “we could if we wanted to.”
This conundrum also seems to be a constant theme. Is there anyone who is ever truly inspired to give bribes, unforced? Does anyone really wake up one morning and say “I’d love to pay money for nothing!” ??
While at the DGM’s office in Buta, Cleve was told this phrase MAKOLO NA NZILA by our friend who was there to supervise and prevent us from having to pay bribes. Of course, this phrase seemed to solicit bribes all on its own -- it means “Hand for the Road” but the idea behind it is that you came from another place, and need to give a little sugar for the road.
There is, of course, no real repercussion for not paying bribes. When Adam was nervous about our various official visits, I told him, frankly, that really, there were very few things that could be levied against us. I mean, our visas are for three months currently and I suppose they could be revoked or not-renewed, but we can’t be killed, or thrown in jail, so overall, the intimidation factor is mostly bark and no bite.
I’m still glad to be done with official visits. And hopefully in three months when it’s time to renew our visas, it’ll go off without a hitch!