« Previous | Main | Next »

Negotiating an 'honest' bribe

Panorama have returned to West Africa to once again pick up the trail of migrants who are willing to risk everything for the chance of a new life in Europe.

Following on from my work in Destination Europe in September 2007 and Destination UK in January 2008, I have kept a travel log of the team's experiences.

Over the weeks leading up to our programme, I will continue to blog about everything from the palpable emotion of a cave that was once used to process slaves being shipped to America, to the intrigue of introducing a group of small children to the myriad intricacies of satellite links, to the delicate negotiations of dangerous border crossings.

Crossing the border into Niger

The trees become stunted, and the road has the kind of heat haze they use in adverts for beer or jeans, or for horror films about men with leather faces and chainsaws.

There are bush taxis piled high with cases and cardboard crates. Some have tethered goats to the top which lean into the wind.

We reach the border as night is falling. The first job is to get out of Burkina. There's another string drawn across the road, and two men with guns. I go into the hut with a confident smile and throw around a few French words, whilst the guard inspects my passport. Then there's some shouting outside.

They've spotted the camera and want it inspected immediately. They accuse us of using it to film them. We say it is possible they are in a shot because the crew were filming when we approached the border, and the guards may have been in the background. They say they will keep the camera and the tape.

We phone our fixer who is 20 miles away, waiting for us across the border in Niger. He jumps in a car and makes his way towards us. It is two hours now since we were stopped, the insects are bumping into the guard's hut and into my head. When the fixer arrives, we assume all will be well. No-one has eaten all day, and we have run out of water.

The fixer calls for the boss. A benevolent looking man emerges out of the dark. There are lengthy conversations. He wants $100. We hand it over. Then, we climb back into the vehicle relieved the whole sorry mess is over.

But another guard runs over and says the boss has changed his mind. We can't leave after all. Despite the bribe. "Where is he now?" we ask, "we need to speak to him."

"The boss has gone home" comes the response, "he will return tomorrow."

Staying the night on this sandy remote border didn't appeal. There were further heated conversations. An hour later the boss emerged from the dark once again, now accompanied by the smell of alcohol and slightly unsteady on his feet.

He announced he'd changed his mind, he couldn't let us through and we would have to wait all night.

Our Ghanaian driver was perplexed. "At least the police in Ghana are honest" he said "when they take a bribe from you, they always let you go."

It was five hours after arriving at the border that we were allowed through into Niger.

Next time, we are forced to weigh the risks of the upcoming leg of our journey.


  • Comment number 1.

    I wonder if Paul's experience in Burkina is a symptom of a failed state, or is just peculiar to one or two remote areas there? Bribery seems endemic in West Africa - is this simply a response to desperate poverty or is there a deeper history at play here? Maybe there's a connection to the centuries of slave trade that has blighted three continents.


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.