$10 hotel room

Location: zero star, government owned, grilled crowded room
Facilities: No lights, No shoes or belts allowed, no bathroom, no food
Occupants: depends on the concierge

This ‘hotel’ does not sound like an enticing place to be in Nairobi on a Sunday night, especially when you decide to make a midnight run clad almost in pajamas to a 24-hour Nakumatt store – but that’s what the fabulous Kenya Police decided to offer this local investor in the new 24 hour economy.

After some light grocery shopping, I drove out only to have a policeman with a torch flash me down. I stopped thinking it’s the usual (aimless) check for an insurance sticker on the windscreen, or the officer needing a lift? But no:

Kijana you have driven out of there – yes?
Did you know you have broken the law?
No I did know that?

The two AK47-totting cops enter the car, one in front seat one in the back and command me to turn round, and proceed back to the store parking which I do. They then ask me demonstrate my driving exit route – and I indicate and proceed into the road (its midnight no other cars on road)

Aha kijana you see, you crossed a double yellow line – you should have turned left and gone to the roundaboutbe fore preceding this way

(This is a weak tale as, this is a narrow road which somehow has four lanes in the daytime, with matatus inventing two of their own, while these cops were asleep, or are too busy to help my friend who was car-jacked a mile away last night. Also the road has not been painted in years, and he claims there’s double yellow line somewhere?)

We drive back to their (nest) vantage point to watch for more ‘offenders’ (prey) – and right on cue, a Toyota Land Cruiser speeds out and takes the same offensive line. This prey looks bigger and more promising than my small car and the front seat cop jumps out of the car before i can fully stop to flash down the SUV – which has a Somali-looking driver (Aha, he’s hit the lottery as; expensive car + Somali driver = $$$, right?)

Meanwhile the other cop jumps into the front seat and orders me to park on the pavement. He removes the car key and asks for my driver license which he then reads as he starts to recite the hotel guest options:

Do you have 5,000 shillings (~$75)? (which is the spot fine/bail he says I will have to pay at the police station so that I may go home and sleep in my bed, failure to which it is on to the cell room with no shoes till I appear in court in the morning)
He tells me to call my family and tell them I won’t be home tonight. I sit quietly; I have had a rough day but there’s no point making it worse – this in an obvious shakedown and the less said the better. These guys are out with AK-47’s to make money not to waste time with paperwork at the station. I remain quiet and he says that when his colleague finishes with the Somali/Land Cruiser driver, we will proceed in tandem to the police station/cells. I have called in enough favours today from friends and no point needlessly burdening them at midnight on Sunday. My new best friend continues to initiate conversation:

Do you have that money?
Where do you live?
Down the street
Where do you work?
In town
Do you have family?
How much do you have?
Do you have two thousand?
I think I have 1,500
That’s not enough
Lete hiyo (bring that)
I upturn my wallet with receipts and change from the super market
I only have 650 (about $10),
That’s not enough, no way (More silence)
Lete hiyo I hand over and he throws the key and license back in my lap.
I’ll let you go because, you also have a family.

And out he gets, to join his colleague at the Land Cruiser. I then start up the car and go home where it all seems like a bad dream 12 hours later. Accepting the ‘hotel offer’ would likely have made a more interesting blog post, but I hope I won’t have to write that one. And all you other 24 hour shoppers should be on the look out for 24 hour predators.

21 thoughts on “$10 hotel room

  1. bgm

    Pole man. This is exactly what happened to me and a couple friends in June but got taken for 2k. I’m guessing this is Ngong Rd from Prestige?

  2. bankelele

    Spear: no chance, no numbers or names, dark car

    Terryanne: bad timing on my part, could have been worse though [and I’m sure I got off cheaper than the Land Cruiser dude]

    Ka-investor: I’ve been to a station house at 2 a.m. to report an accident, and I would not want to be in those cells

    BGM: all part of Nairobi experience. Yep, in the general area

    Kafai: am ok really, seems like a bad dream

  3. Teal'c

    this is probably better described as extortion/thuggery than corruption.

    of course if its prestige, we know very well that its a single line of traffic.

    maybe someone should come up with some car gizmo that video records everyone in the car at the touch of a (hidden) button..

  4. 3nspeaks

    Pole sana banks, this happened to me late last year – i had to part with 1,500 or it was a night in the cell.

    I don’t know how long before cops stop harassing, threatening and extorting bribes from Kenyans.

  5. Anonymous

    Wait. If it’s Prestige, these guys expected you to drive all the way up to Adams? Like they even know how to drive….

    Pole ndugu

  6. Gulliver

    One of the reasons I think twice about moving back to Kenya. I had a similar experience on my way to Nyeri. Industrialization by 2030? not if you can not guarantee people’s security.

    There is a website that details extortion experiences by Kenyan Cops. I will post it once I get the link.

  7. Ssembonge

    Dude, I thought you were brave. Kenyan police are yet to extort any money from me.

    My stubborness has seen me appear in traffic court twice (in the 90’s and in 2003) plus I had a 1 hour stint in jail at Kilimani police station last year for trumped up traffic charges.

    Try driving in Kenya with a foreign driver’s licence.

  8. aaarrrggg

    oh my gosh!
    Mzee and I had a similar experience at the same spot a month and a half ago. He was driving to the airport and the guys threatened that he misses his flight to spend at jail. These guys need to be stopped!

  9. odegle

    i was waiting for the part where you check into the ‘hotel’ lol.

    i got my fair share at the airport the other time for stopping to pick a friend.

  10. Anonymous

    You can’t go into a cell over most traffic offences. Regular cops would never be able to explain putting you in cell over yellow lines to their OCS. Even if you are drunk and smash into someone else’s car, traffic cops will make you sit in the traffic office until you sober up. But because cops know people fear cells, they can run this hustle for as long as they like.

    Next time this happens, if you have time to play along, quietly call them on their bluff. Go with them to the station, calmly wait to be booked into the Occurence Book then offer to pay bond to appear in court. Don’t be rude, loud or too lawyerly since you will be booked for other fake offences (or go in without being booked!) and get no sympathy from other cops. Stay friendly and dumb and they’ll send you away from the state hotel.

  11. Anonymous

    My favourite trick is to apologetically object to paying a bribe on religious grounds. I just shrug and look resigned to going to sort the matter mbele and next thing I know, they have cut me loose.

  12. Mitzy

    I just finished watching season 3 of Prison Break this weekend and this post brought back images of the Panama prison! Glad your got off ok.

  13. adam cartwright

    pole bwana maybe you should get a few numbers from my phone…i know it pays to have a few numbers that can scare cop…. but you went about it the wrong way… next time.. resolution number one dont pay any cash… be firm.. next kenyan non traffic cops cant arrest you for traffic offences, and traffic cops rarely operate after 10 oclock. next time ask him since when did we have traffic cops at 2 am and driv off. they ususly leave you alone after that… one of my friend has akawaida face but is very well known if you put name and face together. the cop almost died of shock after demanding his drivers lincence only to read out the name in incredulity… he sent him off on his way fast… but the guy refused to budge as the other cop was doing a similar con with other motorists across the way… they actually begged him to drive off…

  14. Emis

    hahaha,Those cops are always on the look out for people to bully and make a quick buck.
    Some how the sight of menace on their faces and the AK47’s make you freeze in reasoning and submit to their demands.
    Someone is yet to stand up to them!

  15. gishungwa

    while its easy to advise, all i can share with you is that the State hotel is the last place you want to be. I have been their guest once and i hope never to be again.

  16. Anonymous

    This is an old post but still….pole sana. I don’t understand why law abiding citizens have to be harassed while going about their business. Reading through your post made me homesick but it also reminded me of some of the situations/reasons that make people uncomfortable and so they leave. So much for 24 hour shopping…I’ll remember this while thanking God at the same time when I make a late night milk and bread run to the convenience store.

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