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Cobs and robbers

| June 3, 2008

Papers please

We encounter our first police stop at the outskirts of Lilongwe, but the officer waves us through. Malawi police are relatively relaxed, and those in Mozambique have gotten much better as the country’s economy improves. In the 1990s, with memories of the civil war still fresh, the police in Mozambique were notorious for shaking down travelers, charging them with bogus offences such as “driving with sunglasses.”

In an attempt to improve the country’s image and make it a more attractive destination for investors, the government has cracked down on corruption. Also, as Mozambique’s peace endures, a sense of normalcy has returned, and government officials appear to take their responsibilities more seriously. Most significantly, officers’ salaries are said to have increased.

The level of harassment has an inverse relationship to poverty. Zimbabwean police, who were fine during the 1990s, now present a great hassle to truck drivers. The change mirrors Zimbabwe’s demise from regional breadbasket to basketcase. With the country’s hyperinflation outstripping pay rises, Zimbabweans have been forced to supplement their incomes in whatever way they can.

Congo, where a tense peace holds, is a risky destination too. When a Congolese police officer asks for your driver’s license, you’d better show it from behind the windshield, says Alex. Otherwise, he might charge you $100 to get it back.

Alex spots a buddy truck driver and pulls over to chat. His friend says he spent four days waiting at the Zimbabwean border for customs to clear his truck. During an earlier trip, Zimbabwean officials fined him $60 for being overloaded. But the scales in Mozambique, and later in Malawi, showed his weight was well below the legal limits.

Alex is concerned about violence during the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. He will ask Transcom Sharaf’s management for permission to bypass that country during trips from Malawi to South Africa.

Category: Blogs, Out of Africa

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