For Abdi Ali, a 35-year-old shop owner in Mogadishu’s Hamar Weyne market, driving with cash on hand to give traffic police officers at checkpoints is a normal part of getting around the capital.
“It is a normal thing and we save time when there is a lot of traffic on the city roads,” he told Sabahi. “I give a small amount of money to any police officer that agrees [to take a bribe] after which he notifies the other policemen that the car has been searched. If that was not possible, anyone who is driving a personal car would waste a lot of time at security checkpoints.”
While many drivers may choose to bribe the traffic police to avoid routine car searches, others worry that it sets a bad precedent and could have a negative impact on security.
“I have witnessed many drivers handing out cash bribes to police in the streets to avoid being searched,” said retired Colonel Abdullahi Abdi Ganey, who served in the Somali army under the Mohamed Siad Barre regime. “[But this] can have a huge negative impact on security if the government does not do something about it and hold security forces accountable.”
Ganey said that if law abiding citizens can pay off security forces, so can members of al-Shabaab and other people with bad intentions.
“Vehicles carrying explosives used by al-Shabaab pass through intersections manned by security officers in the capital city Mogadishu,” he told Sabahi.
“So far, there has not been any soldier who was jailed for failure to perform his job duties when an explosion occurs,” he said. “When an officer is bribed with a small amount of cash, he will not look inside the car even if Ahmed Godane is in it, and I am still wondering why there have not been any inquiries into this.”
Mohamed Ali, a 35-year-old a taxi driver, told Sabahi he sometimes wastes about 20 minutes when the traffic police conduct searches on vehicles.
“When a client calls me for service and I arrive at a place where the traffic police are conducting searches, I bribe the police so as to not lose my client,” he said. “I know that if this continues it could affect security because an al-Shabaab person who is driving a car [with explosives] could do the same, which could harm the civilians.”
Ali said he usually pays between 9,000 and18,000 shillings (up to $1) per bribe.
Civilians disrespecting the law Sahra Salat, 32, who owns a mobile phone store at the KM-4 intersection, said she refuses to pay bribes and goes through the legitimate search process every time.
“It is true that some people pay money, but they are not forced to do that,” she told Sabahi while refuelling her car at a gas station near KM-4. “The police officers are not evil, but it is the people who are not willing to adhere to the law and are rushing to bribe the officers.”
“No one will refuse money if it is offered,” she said. “It is the public that is teaching officers to accept bribes.”
“I would tell the people who are driving expensive cars and have too much money to repent from what you are doing. It is possible that an al-Shabaab member driving a car full of explosives could hide among you and then cause a lot of damage,” she said.
Ali, the taxi driver, agreed, saying that he is aware that bribing the police is unlawful.
“We have been in a state of lawlessness for more than 20 years and it is difficult for some of us to follow the rules,” he said. “I believe we need a lot of awareness training so that civilians will collaborate with the security forces.”
For his part, Benadir administration spokesperson Mohamed Yusuf Osman defended the traffic police and refuted the claims that they were accepting monetary bribes instead of ensuring security.
However, he said, any officers found guilty of accepting bribes will have legal measures taken against them.
“I do not believe that there is any officer standing on the road for the purpose of receiving a bribe. The security forces who are on duty day and night to ensure the security of their people deserve praise,” he told Sabahi, deflecting blame on citizens who engage in bribery.
“It is possible that sometimes civilians driving passenger vehicles will approach officers with money because they do not want to waste a lot of time in security searches,” he said. “The problem lies with the civilians because they should respect the law first.”