What to do: Getting pulled over in Kenya

2162736687_a017674b73_oI 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.

(Image via Daudi Were / Flickr)

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3 Responses to What to do: Getting pulled over in Kenya

  1. Hi, I just happened across your blog. I am also an expat living in Nairobi and have been here for about 2 years. I am wondering, what would you do if you did perhaps commit an offense (like turning where a sign said not to, but you didn’t see the sign. If the officer demanded to get in your car, what would you do? I know at least two friends who this happened to, and they let the officer in their car to go down to the station. But I, like you, am freaked out at the idea of letting a officer get in the car with me, especially if I was alone! But I really don’t know what I would do in that situation. Claire

    • MamaMgeni says:

      That is a tough one! There is no automated instant fine system in Kenya, so if you did indeed break the law, in theory the police officer would have to accompany you to the station to make sure you didn’t just run away without paying your legally mandated fine. You could try leaving your driver’s license with the officer and asking them to meet you at the nearest station, but I imagine that wouldn’t go over so well. They may even insist upon towing your car to the police station, which would mean an additional cost to you (and possibly damaging your car). That’s why I think it’s best just to learn the traffic rules and stick to them! Obviously we all make mistakes from time to time though, and if I were in this situation, I would do anything (short of paying a bribe) to avoid letting an officer in my car with me (or worse, me and my child!).

  2. Pingback: How to: Getting a birth certificate in Kenya | Mama Mgeni

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