On our trip to and from Dar es Salaam earlier this month, Arthur and I were charged with speeding once each. That’s a TSH 30,000 fine (about AU18) and some paperwork, then you’re on your way. (We always ask for paperwork. I have no idea if this decreases the chances of the police pocketing the money, though!)
Both incidents were in ambiguously signed areas. In Arthur’s case, it was a zebra crossing in the middle of nowhere with some writing on the road that said, ‘slow down’. In my case it was just before a sign telling me I was leaving a village (no discernible village in sight). Neither had speed zone signs or anything indicative of a speed limit.
The police always show you the speed gun with the speed reading on it, but neither incident rang true for us. Arthur was clocked at 94kph which was well over what he thought he was going, especially since the gearbox on our car is having trouble getting us above 90kph. I on the other hand, was clocked at 56kph and I’m pretty sure I was going faster than that since I was overtaking, which was also a reason I was surprised they’d got a reading, considering the angle we were all on.The location seemed a bit fishy for Arthur too — it seemed like he was clocked several hundred metres before the zebra crossing, though he was pulled over just before it.
While I was waiting for my paperwork with the three police at my stop, I discovered the reason for all this. I wasn’t looking for an excuse or to catch anyone out, but I was observing my surroundings. What I saw was the police officer with the gun aiming it at people who were travelling east. We were travelling west. So was the next person they pulled over. They showed the gun and told him it was his reading.
Many Tanzanians are embarrassed, angered and saddened by the state of police in their country. Many other white people are infuriated by these kinds of tactics. We have ongoing discussions with various people about what the right approach is. But we always pay the fine, and cheerfully. Of course, arguing is seen as a sign of guilt, but we also feel there’s little to be achieved by doing so.
But let us all be reminded that there are many more people in Tanzania suffering far greater injustices than us at the hands of the police, and often without the means to do much about it.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.