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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Timbuktu tomorrow! Another scary experience today...in Togo

Flew from Lome, Togo, to Bamako, Mali today. Staying at the very nice Tamana Hotel where I have free WIFI facilities in the room. Oh dear - how can I find time to sleep? But I have to set off for the airport at 5am tomorrow, to take the 7am flight to Timbuktu. Yes, the legendary city of Timbuktu. Exciting, isn't it?
I have to tell you about the sad end to my otherwise positive experience in Togo. Lome Airport is a horrible place. I have not encountered any corruption in Togo until I left the country from Lome Airport. Was forced to pay bribes to a series of 5 officials, from the entrance of the departure hall to various guys at the x-ray machines, all the way to the guy before the boarding gate. The first three were satisfied with merely a CFA 1000 note (smallest note available, about S$3) but run out of that and had to pay CFA 2000 to the 4th.
The 5th was the greediest: He threatened to strip search me and confiscate all cash I have as the cash had not been declared when entering Togo. I said nobody was ever ask to declare money on hand when entering the country. He argued rules said they must be declared, and then wanted to drag me to a separate room. He wanted CFA 10,000. I didn't think it would be wise to be dragged to another room where nobody could see what happened, or wanted him to see the money I had on hand. I tried to bargain but had to pay CFA 10,000 in the end. I met 5 Mainland Chinese engineers and businessmen at the boarding gate. Two paid CFA 20,000 each and others 5000 to 10000 - all to the last official who was the nastiest. Also saw a number of Lebanese businessmen, who looked like airport regulars, simply handling over some large notes to him without asking. What a disappointing end to an otherwise good impression of Togo.
On the plane, I sat beside a young Chinese businessmen who had spent the last 6 years in Africa. He says corrupt African immigration people always target people from China and perhaps Asia in general, as these are perceived as traders carrying lots of cash to bring to China or between African countries. He has gotten to know individual immigration officers of different airports well and would always ring them before he lands. These officers would then personally escort him through checkpoints to avoid trouble. He said he tended to pay US$50 each time this "service" is performed.
Wow - they must be really carrying alot of cash to think nothing of paying US$50 at each checkpoint. So far, I didn't have to pay any bribes when entering countries, only do so when leaving. Looks like the Chinese often encounters problems when entering and leaving the countries (- sometimes not even allowed to enter with proper visa), and hence some of the smarter, regular ones establish special arrangements with corrupt immigration officers.

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