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Close Encounters of the TKK Kind - Toa Kitu Kidogo

This Stories are provided by:
Brian Mukulu

If you have lived long enough in Kenya, you become accustomed to several things. Some of them good and some of them bad. There is the warm and friendly attitude of the Kenyan people and their hardworking spirit. You also get to sample its wonderful wildlife, its beautiful landscape, the appetising dishes such as ugali, sukumawiki and nyama choma. There is also the world renowned Kenyan tea. Which brings me to one of the not so good things that Kenya is know for: (TKK)

TKK is a Kiswahili phrase that loosely translates into “Give me something small”. It is a phrase that has become synonymous with the Kenyan police who used this phrase to request for a bribe. But over time they developed less direct phrases when asking for bribes. For example “Si uninunulie chai”, which translates to: “Why don’t you buy me some tea?”

Now being a Kenyan, I have had my fair share of close encounters of the TKK kind. Let me relate to you a few of them.

My first recollection goes back to when I had just turned 18. I was the proud owner of a brand new National Identity card. I was now an adult. I could now do whatever I wanted with my life.

However, at the around the same time, I had received the bad news that my maternal grandfather had passed away. My grandfather hailed from the Western Province in a place called Mbale. Now anyone from western Kenya will tell you the death of a loved one is not a simple matter. It comes along with several traditional ceremonies before, during and after the burial.

Well, on the night before the burial, I took part in a wake ceremony. What took place in such a ceremony? Basically, all the bereaved along with their friends kept vigil as they waited for the burial day. The women would sing songs as the men drank beer and made preparations for the next day. A bull would also be slaughtered and roasted for everyone to eat. This was an opportunity for me to rekindle relationships with relatives I had not seen for years.

Now on that night, My two cousins wanted to get some beers from a local pub in town. I agreed to accompany them, eager to exploit my newfound status of being an adult. As we were getting back from the bar, two policemen on patrol stopped us. We quickly exchanged pleasantries. They asked us why we were up so late. One of my cousins calmly explained that we were attending a wake ceremony for our grandfather. The next question was to result in hair-raising experience.

“Can you produce your IDs?”

At that moment, I remembered that I had forgotten to carry my newly acquired identity card. God, what was I going to do? As I debated over whether I should make a dash for it, my cousins produced their identity cards. It was now my turn to produce mine. By now, I had come to the conclusion that there was no use in running away. The Kalashnikovs the cops carried ruled out that option. Faced with no other choice, I told them that I had no ID.

“Alright then, sit down beside the others.”

The others, what others? Then is when I noticed the others. Fellow wananchi (citizens) who had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly were sitting quietly on the pavement waiting for a police lorry to take them to the police station. I was being arrested!

This was turning out to be a rude introduction into being an adult. Kenyan jails had become notorious for torturing of prisoners and their filthy conditions. Noticing the fear in my young innocent face, one of the policemen joked, “Don’t worry, you will have some nice bread with Blue Band margarine for breakfast in the morning.” Thankfully, I did not have to find out what Kenyan prisoners really had for breakfast. My calm, suave cousin came to the rescue. He quickly took one of the cops aside, and gave him 20Ksh. That is all it cost for my freedom.

My next experience with TKK was a lot less hair-raising. I was now at the university. I had lost my National ID. Now to get your ID replaced, there is a procedure to be followed. You have to, report the loss to the nearest police station, get a police abstract and then use this to get a replacement. So I duly when to the Thika Police Station. While there, everything started off rather smoothly. I filled out some forms, paid out an administration fee, picked my receipt, and all that was left was for me to pick the abstract. So along with others who had also come for the abstracts, I waited for my name to be called at a counter that was being manned by a heavy set policewoman.

The policewoman had this intimidating look in her eyes. The kind that said, don’t you dare mess with me. I quietly observed as those before me were called to pick their abstracts. Something strange would happen, as one got to the counter, the lady would whisper something to the person, who would then reach out into his pocket (or her handbag if it was a lady) and discreetly put something in the expectant lady’s hand. The abstract would then be handed over to the “customer”. I was now very curious. What was happening here? I was soon to find out as my name was called out.

As I pensively approached the counter, the policewoman whispered in Kiswahili, “Can you give me some money for administration costs?” Now the way she asked it, you new right away that she was asking for a bribe and there was no way you were getting the abstract out of her without complying. Note that I had already paid the administration fee and a receipt had been issued.

Now the only money I had on me then was ten Kenyan shillings which I was planning for transport back to college. I was not prepared for this. Well, resigned myself to the decision that I would have to trek back to college. So I innocently produced the 10 bob and placed it on the woman’s hand. Big, big mistake! This elicited an angry response.

“Hii ni madharau gani,” she retorted (What kind of patronising attitude is this?).

“I don’t have any more money,” I pleaded.

With that response, she shooed me away without the abstract. Bemused, I just stood by the counter as I watched the others behind me come to the counter, pay the “administration fee”, and collect their abstracts. Once everyone had collected their abstracts, I don’t know what overcame her. Either she felt sorry for me, or she was afraid that her superiors would ask why this young man was not being attended to. Most likely, the latter. Anyway, she eventually threw my abstract at me and warned me never to come back to the police station again.

The last of my escapades, had to do with my getting a driving license. I had been going for my lessons at a Driving School in Nairobi. Now on the day before the test, we were all informed that we each have to pay 1,000 Ksh. to “fuel” the car. All this seemed quite in order at the time, but looking back, I now realise that I had indirectly paid for a bribe. Why you ask?

Well on the test day itself, my classmates and I went to the testing center at a local police station. Ordinarily, what would happen is that the police officer administrating the test, would take each candidate on a test drive from the police station, onto the busy highway and back to the station. Instead, we were all herded on to the back of a pick-up, with one student at the driving wheel, with the policeman at the passenger seat. We then each took turns driving a few metres at a time. This went on until we got back to the police station. Whenever we made a mistake, the policeman actually took over the wheel and drove; he even took the time to correct us. He was acting more like the instructor! Suffice it to say that we all ended up passing the driving test with flying colours.

That sums up my encounters with TKK. I am sure that many other Kenyan residents have their own experiences to relate. I sincerely hope that future generations of Kenyans will not have to deal with the close encounters of the TKK kind!

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