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Kovaks Street Scam Forums • View topic - Dope & Crooked Cops in Africa

Dope & Crooked Cops in Africa

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Dope & Crooked Cops in Africa

Postby KOVAKS on Fri Sep 19, 2008 10:47 am

Contributed by <Name witheld> on 21 February 2006:

This is more for the "experimental" traveller - students and so forth - and is primarily applicable in poorer countries.

Sometimes, you will be approached on the street by a man, usually leaving a pack of friends to come talk to you, cheerfully offering to sell you some "fire," "hemp," whatever you want to call it. It'll probably be just about the right price for the country - not too expensive, because they don't want you to decline, but not too cheap, as they don't want you getting suspicious.

You fork over the cash, he supplies you with some legitimate substances. It all seems well and good until a local policeman, having received a "tip" that you may have some suspicious items on your person, decides to stop you, search you, and will most likely find it the first place they look. Justifiably scared witless by the thought of time in the jails of a Third World country, you decide to accept his demand of a large bribe to avoid jail time.

Twenty minutes later, the crooked cop and the drug dealer are laughing together, reliving times from their days in primary school and deciding how best to split up the money they conned out of you.

There are variants on this, as well. Sometimes, all it takes it for you to be lured to a place where the natives are enjoying whatever narcotics they have on hand. The cops show up, everyone splits, and suddenly you're left "holding the bag," metaphorically this time.

This very nearly happened to me and a British friend in Africa. We were going to a club, and wanted to "get down" beforehand. I should add that this is a "tourist-y" part of the city - sushi, pizza, and other luxuries - but not very "clean": it was infested with crime, though it was mostly confined to drug dealing and prostitution.

I should add that I was quite aware of the existence of this strategy, having initially suspected it of several people who approached me who I knew had relations with police, and after that I had read that such encounters are actually rather common in a travel guide.

Anyways, our usual "guy" was up north for the weekend, so we decided to try someone who our other friends had been patronizing for several weeks. We'd dealt with Don Juannie once before, where my friend decided to try to impress the dealer by recounting his own days of crime and showing off his silver necklace, gold ring, and $800 cellphone he'd made doing so.

Note that this is a country where everything you buy must be bartered for, so my friend's actions were not quite as stupid as they seem - the dealer was, after all, trying to charge a rather high price for what we wanted to buy, and you say what you can to try to bring it down.

Anyhow, a week later, we met him on the street, drunk off about a dozen shots of tequila each, and accompanied him back to the usual empty back-lot where drug deals went down.

He disappeared for a second to meet his superiors, so we sat down and started to get ready to do what we were there to do. During this time, around six or seven young men with large sticks seemed to materialize out of thin air, shouting in broken English, "We know you smoking hemp! The police come and put you away!"

My friend, a rather large individual of Sudanese descent - people in this particular country, on the shorter side, tend to be afraid of tall people - stood up and towered over the men, saying, "Where's the hemp? I don't see the hemp!" In fact, he was right - no marijuana consumption was to occur that night.

The thugs, realizing they had little basis on which to extract a bribe, decided to just take what we had by force. Don Juannie, who had showed up by now, talked to my friend, saying, "Give me your phone, they are going to take your phone," and reaching into my friend's pocket as he refused. The cellphone spilled out, and my friend reached down, grabbed it, and sprinted to safety - the open-air bar where our tamer friends awaited us.

Meanwhile, I was surrounded by the gang, belligerently drunk, and felt a hand searching in all my pockets. The first thing they took off me, before my cellphone and money, was my recently acquired stiletto blade, so the rational part of my mind screamed at me to escape.

One tried to hold me back, so I grabbed his shirt and used my hold as leverage to slam my shoulder into the gangster barring my path to freedom. I ran down to the end of the street, shaking with anger as I reclined against a lamp post.

After what seemed like twenty minutes but was probably about fifteen seconds, a police car spun around the corner, with my friend and an older, Middle Eastern-looking man in the back.

Too angry to be bewildered, I sat in the back with them cursing out the dealer, oblivious to the probable stupidity of saying such things in the back of a police car. The police - a completely worthless organization in this country - feigned interest in our plight while driving around, asking us if we saw the thieves. We said no and they dropped us off.

It turned out my friend had run around the corner and to the bar only to see the police car sitting right there in the middle of the street. We had been to this area dozens of times in the month or so we'd been visiting the country and had never once seen a single police car.

My friend reached the bar amidst the police's shouts of "Hey! Come here! Let us help you!" (Help us with what?) As he was fluent with Arabic, he spoke to the bar's Lebanese owner expressing his suspicion towards the police, and the Lebanese man agreed to accompany him in the police car.

I can't remember ever having been so angry in my life; I was far too intoxicated to recognize my luck in having escaped bodily injury. I nearly provoked several fights on the 10-minute walk to the club, some with the owners of some streetside shops angry that I was venting my rage on their stands. (My hand still doesn't flex properly.)

The next day, I was emotionally dumbed; the anger of the previous night had proven so overwhelming that by the morning I was a zombie, unable to do much but replay the incident in my head.

We were incredibly lucky that night. I could have been beaten, stabbed, or worse: spending time in an African jail - probably the closest earthly equivalent to Hell.

The moral of this story? I'd like to say, "Don't buy drugs in third-world countries," but travellers have been doing that for years and years and probably won't stop any time soon. If you want to learn something from my experience, keep this in mind: after you buy anything for which you could b e punished for having, keep it tucked tightly in the palm of your hand, ready to toss into a ditch at the first sign of the police.

Here's the larger lesson: remember that you can't ever trust a drug dealer, and you can only measure the faith you can place in them by the repercussions they know they'll suffer for betraying you. So generally if someone's "vouched for," that's better than not - but if they calculate that they have more to gain from betrayal than from their relationships with others, best to trust that's exactly what they're going to do.
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