I remember the first time I was ever pulled over by police. I was 19 years old, driving my very first car, and I actually cried through the whole thing. No matter how long you’ve been driving, if you’re new to Kenya you might not know how to handle it if you’re being pulled over, especially when you don’t think you’ve broken any laws.
I’ve been pulled over on a number of occasions since living in Kenya. There are two different ways it has played out:
First scenario – Officer pulls me over. Asks to see my license. I crack my window just enough to hand it to him. He looks at my name, and says, “Eh, Wambugu!” I say, “Yes, that’s my surname.” He says, “Oh, okay madam, you have a nice day,” and lets me go.
Second scenario – Officer pulls me over. Tells me that I should have indicated when I was turning right out of the parking lot (or something similar). I tell him that I DID indicate. He says, “You did?” I say, “Yes, I did. I always do.” He says, “Oh, ok, I guess the sun was in my eyes,” and lets me go.
The first scenario is basically just a cop being excited that I married a Kenyan (or, in some cases, a Kikuyu cop being excited that I married a Kikuyu). The second scenario, on the other hand, is likely an example of the cops fishing for someone to get nervous. The fact that I know I did nothing wrong, and I make it clear that I’m in no way nervous or flustered, gives them little wiggle room to maneuver.
Let me just mention here that if you’re breaking traffic laws, and you get pulled over, then sorry buster, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences. Get a Kenyan driver’s license. Learn the traffic rules and obey them. Don’t screw around. But, if you DIDN’T break a rule, or the officer tries to tell you that you broke a rule that sounds fishy and you think doesn’t really exist, then stand your ground. Do NOT pay a bribe to a police officer just to get out of a tense, uncomfortable situation. (In fact, it’s our policy to NEVER pay bribes under any circumstances, and my husband has spent many an hour in county lockup waiting to pay traffic fines as a result.)
My best advice for handling being pulled over:
- Lock your doors.
- Roll up your windows.
- Stay calm.
- If the officer asks to see your license, you can just hold it up to the window. (I usually hand mine through a cracked window, but I’ve heard that they can hang on to it and refuse to give it back to you.)
- Don’t pay bribes. It just encourages corruption and extortion.
- NEVER let a police officer (or city council worker, or anyone) in your car. EVER.
I’ll reiterate – the best defense against trouble with the police is not to break the rules. Don’t give the them a reason to pull you over. But if you think you’re being pulled over unjustly, just stay calm. Stand your ground. And don’t pay that bribe.