My mission was simple, explore as much of Africa as possible. So how did I find myself in this situation? Trembling with fear, unlawfully detained with my possessions searched and seized by the border police. How on earth was I going to get out of this situation alive and free?
My story starts in Freetown-Sierra Leone. After spending 2 weeks partying like a rockstar and exceeding my budget, I decided to head to Conakry-Guinea. Booking a flight, was a logistical nightmare so I went with plan B – a shared car across the border. There were 10 of us crammed into a 7 seater clunker car. 6 hours. That’s what google maps says the journey takes so I figured all the horror stories online were exaggerated; until everything started going wrong. 6 hours passed and we stopped to; fuel, change tires, adjust loose suitcases on the roof and much more. We hadn’t even reached the border, let alone Conakry!
Seeing the checkpoint, was a relief as my legs had started to go numb and the air in the car musty. On the Guinean side, I immediately noticed the level of corruption – something I didn’t experience in Sierra Leone. As soon as officers saw my Nigerian passport, they would seize it and demand money to return it. It shocked me most that, no one cared as we were in a government building. Though I objected initially, I gave in and paid. Multiple times. Drained by this ordeal I was happy to be on the move again, but to my surprise, we stopped less than 2 minutes later by guess who? The border police.
We got out and Conakry already felt like a different world. The roads were red and dusty from the harsh summer sun, the neighbourhood had chickens and goats running around and in general, looked like a stereotypical African village but with poorly built brick houses instead of huts. This couldn’t be a police checkpoint I thought. We were led to 2 officers who sat on rocking chairs in front of one of the houses. They took one look at my passport and stated a price. Tired of this dance, I refused. The officers did their usual waltz and refused to return my passport until I paid. After a brief standoff, I returned to negotiate the bribe. I walked back and pointed at my passport on the table. He slapped my hand away and pushed me so hard I stumbled to the ground. In shock and disbelief, I gathered my thoughts; how do I retaliate? He was a police officer, and I was a foreigner in a country, where I didn’t know my rights. I decided to record him to later use to report him. I guess this is a European mindset because I was not ready for what happened next.
As soon as I got out my phone and pressed record, he leapt on me, tackling me to the floor in attempts to get my phone. I held onto it with my dear life and kept screaming. Soon enough a crowd started to form, he leapt up and addressed the audience of frightened locals. As I didn’t speak the native language or French, I don’t know what he said but I was soon enough surrounded by other officers demanding for my phone. In hysteria at the whole situation, I cradled myself to comfort whilst the police seized my phone and deleted all of the videos I had taken of my journey to the border. They then told the assaulting officer to return my passport which he threw at me and they let me go. Luckily the officers didn’t know how iPhones work and I still have the video.
Once back on the road the other passengers advised me that when in Guinea, I shouldn’t argue with any officers we encountered. The journey to Conakry, just as the horror stories described, was long and incredibly uncomfortable. The poor quality roads made it feel like we were in a lowrider. 15 hours later, with all sense of life sucked out of me, I was finally in Guinea. Being honest, this incident created a fear of the people there and I left the country shortly after. However, this incident, in an odd way explored a part of me I never knew existed and Guinea now holds a special place in my heart.
For those who’d prefer to hear me explain it 🙂