Many of them are fed up, tired. They cannot endure anymore. Drivers of passenger transport vans and buses, of taxis or motorcycle taxis are rebelling against taxes, fees and police abuses in many cities of Africa.
In Korhogo, the north region of Ivory Cost, motorcycle taxi drivers gathered in front of the city hall on November 11thand managed to enter it to protest against the many taxes they have to face. It is the latest riot of many that are multiplying throughout the continent. "55,000 CFA francs (about 85 euros) a year, of which 35,000 are for the town hall," explains Armand, a young man who drives a motorcycle. “And to that we must add the bribes that we have to pay to the police day after day.”
Arouna drives a taxi between the cities of Garua and Marua in northern Cameroon. The journey takes an average of seven hours each way. Along it, he encounters five or six security force checkpoints every day. At all of them, they stop him and ask him for the vehicle papers. He already knows what he has to do. He takes out the documents already placed in a plastic sleeve and under it, with great cunning he places a 2,000-franc note. The public servant makes himself as if reviewing the papers, returns them and, surreptitiously, slips the money into one of his pockets. Sometimes the agent he comes across has a few stripes on his uniform and the amount offered does not seem like enough for his rank. So the driver is forced to get out and negotiate. Often the new transaction takes place in a secluded place, by the side of the road, to avoid the prying eyes of passengers.
A car stops short in front of Ahmed's taxi in Dar es Salaam. The two vehicles rub lightly, nothing happens to either of them. Drivers attest to this. But, a traffic policeman standing on a corner not far away has observed the scene and runs towards the spot. He threatens to fine the taxi driver, to take him to the police station, to put him in jail for reckless driving. He assures, with the support of the other affected, that it is not the fault of either of them, that there has been no damage. The agent insists on his threats. Finally, he convinces the taxi driver to go with him behind the vehicle to settle the dispute with some bills. At the end, the two laugh and greet each other. "That's the way things are here, we'll never stop being poor, but we cannot stand up, even if it's not fair," says Ahmed with a resigned face.
In front of police stations in many African towns and cities, vehicles are piling up, especially motorbikes that have been seized from people who cannot pay taxes or bribes. An example of how difficult it is to comply with this trickery for many citizens.
African governments are aware of this reality and allow it because they see in it a way to increase the low salaries they pay to security forces. Meanwhile, drivers who have to work very long hours to get some benefit from their vehicles watch, helplessly, as taxes, gasoline, repairs and, above all, kickbacks take most of their income. That is why they are fed up.
Africa is the world region with the highest index of corruption and the rulers have done little in recent years to address the situation. Not only drivers have to deal with it, but most citizens also have to when they want to access basic services or are in need of police action.
Corruption is one of the continent’s great challenges when it comes to fight poverty. If the trend is not reversed, it will be very difficult for Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The covid-19 pandemic has already caused an alarming increase in poverty in Africa, thus reversing decades of progress, making it harder to achieve that goal.
Citizens of many African countries feel the grip of corruption in their daily lives. They cannot avoid meeting the public officials’ demands to see things working. If they are also drivers, the police take a large part of their earnings. For this reason, it is not surprising that protests repeatedly erupt from the people who feel that while they make every day a great effort to support their families the greed of law enforcement officials is undermining it.
Photo. Central Bus Station in Kampala, Uganda. © Javier Sanchez Salcedo