Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Angolan SME Agents are a Bunch of Thieving, IGNORANT Crooks!

Finally, I can say that without fear that I will be denied a visa by some Angolan bureaucrat with access to Google! I had one of the worst experience I've had in Angola upon leaving Luanda. It's a shame, because it was so unplesant that it has really left a negative impression- hopefully it will go away as times moves on.

Many of you might be familiar with my visa problems. (You can read about it here, here, here, and here.) Saturday night I was able to check in just fine and proceeded to the passport/visa control. I never had any problems in Luanda before, so I wasn't expecting anything to happen. If only I had stepped in a different line than the one I chose.

The agent took one look at my visa and immediately declared me not in compliance. I explained to him that my visa was valid for two years and that I had multiple entries of 90 days each. He said I didn't, and that I was in gross violation. I tried once again to explain, and he called over his "supervisor." When his "supervisor" came over, I tried to explain to him and both of them told me to be quiet. Then the "supervisor" left.

The agent came back to me and told me that I was going to have to pay a large fine- US$7,000- and stay in jail until it was paid- meaning I would miss my flight. At this point I lost it and started tearing up. I asked to speak to his supervisor, and in spite of the fact that the "supervisor" had just left, he told me his supervisor was not there. I tried again to tell him, as diplomatically as possible, that he was wrong. I got out my cell phone and tried to call our Human Resources director, the person responsible for these issues, the one who had intervened so many times before. He told me to put my phone away because it was a restricted area.

He said it was my company's fault and not to worry because my company would pay the fine. I explained that I worked for a humanitarian agency- hoping that he would take pity on me- and that they couldn't pay that money by that night. He shook his head and said, "well, then you'll have to go to jail."

Basically I was stuck- and crying. He said he would "help" me. He dawdled a bit then wrote something on a piece of paper and slipped it to me. It had "300" written on it and he just looked at me. I knew what it was, but I didn't want to believe it, so I asked him what it was supposed to mean. He said, "If you give me this then I'll help you go through without any problems." I said I couldn't do that because I would need a receipt. He again said that if I didn't give him that $300, then I would have to be put in jail until I could produce the $7,000.

Finally, I just paid the bribe because the thought of spending any more time in Angola than I had to was physically painful. I was so angry and upset- I really don't think I can find the words to describe what I was feeling. I had never paid a bribe before in my life, let alone paid one in Angola. I felt humilated and violated; not to mention the fact that I was making a scene by bawling my evyes out. Worst of all, I was completely innocent of whatever he was accusing me of. He clearly saw I was desperate and took advantage of that.

It took me over an hour to calm down. Even now when I think of it, I tear up. I know for a lot of people it may not be such a big deal, but to me it is. I've alwayss said that the reason corruption works is because people buy into it, but when faced with it directly, I too caved. Should I have fought it on principle?

I gave a lot to Angola- defended it when others knocked it, stayed to work long after I knew I was unhappy there. I just felt betrayed, to tell the truth. It infuriates me to think that a government employee who makes a good salary and has good benefits is the one who cheated me out of $300. Of course I'd prefer not to be cheated out of ANY money, but if I were to be cheated out any money, I would prefer it to be someone who needed it, like a street kid. (That may not make any sense to anyone but me.)

Like I said earlier, the worst part of this is that it will be my last memory of Angola. I wanted to leave on a positive note, but now that's too hard.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I am an Angolan, and I would like to say something like sorry. For what you wrote you seem to be a honest and law abiding guy. I live in Luanda and I hate the curruption, and the whole things tear me to bits. I have a similar believe that we should not cave to it...but in Angola it's close to impossivel. Things are arranged for you to deliberately ending up a curruptor...I have gone through manny situations in which all wanted to do is cry and punch the guy in front of me, but then I would have to do it all day long. for us now, giving in to corruptes official is a matter of survival, your life and your fimilly lives can be detroied in a second, your son/daughter can miss out in education if you don't go with them, you can end up living on the street if you don't give, you can end up without water, power and many more basic stuff which you need on a daily bases just to stay alive. Life in angola is a difficult already without it, no one likes to cave in to it, but we are literally forced to do it. In a normal society you'd have some legals means to defend yourself but in Angola we don't have it, and as I said those guys can destroy your life is a second. I hope you dont get it as me trying to justify the wrong, but see it just as trying to shed some light into the matter. I feel sorry that that was your last impression of Angola, unfortnately one the most of people that come to Angola have after leaving. In my area of work I leasten to all this kind of things going on all the time and expacts complaining of all this situations and it pains me too because I know its true...Hope someday you'll be able to forget all of this...
Yours Steve

Leslie said...

Hi Steve.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. With time, the pain of this incident has gone away (mostly) and my happier memories of Angola are more present. I now remember the praia, kizomba and my wonderful Angolan coworkers more than this guy!

Looking back, I think of everyday Angolans and how they might feel in this situation. I recognize that I was very "lucky" in that I had the money to pay the extortion. Most Angolans don't have the money. What would they do? How would they have been able to get around this sort of corruption?

It makes me sad for Angola. Most Angolans I met were good people and deserve better. I hope that one day things will change!