Exclusive: a Guinean NGO goes undercover to catch corruption on camera
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An NGO in the West African nation of Guinea secretly filmed corrupt practices going on at four different roadblocks in the capital Conakry. They edited their damning footage into a 5-minute long film and sent it exclusively to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. This film highlights the widespread illegal activity perpetrated by soldiers, gendarmes and civilians alike, despite government regulation.
In the Soussou language that is spoken in Guinea, bribes are known as "wo feraba" (“come forward” or “show yourself”) and "wo décompté" (“count yourselves”) because that’s what soldiers and gendarmes often say when people pass through their checkpoints.
In reality, these questions mean that the driver will have to pay up. Soldiers or others at a roadblock usually invent a reason to ask for money. Often, they’ll claim that the driver has to hand over money because he or she wasn’t carrying an ID. Other times, they say it is a charge for extra passengers.
This extortion might be illegal, but it is common practice. That’s what a 5-minute film made by the NGO National Platform for United Citizens for Development (PCUD, or Plateforme Nationale des Citoyens Unis pour le Développement) found. Their method was simple: they used a mobile phone to secretly film interactions at four different roadblocks to expose the extortion going on there. We’ve selected some sections of the footage they captured.
Raking in the money
In the excerpt below, for example, several members of the armed forces show off money that they took from drivers who weren’t able to show an ID card.
An officer who’s angry because he didn’t get what he wanted
In this excerpt, a man in civilian clothes chastises a driver because he didn’t give him the money required to pass.
You can see the full film at the bottom of this article. It shows other instances when the men manning several different roadblocks extorted money. The footage was shot at the KK and Kouria roadblocks on the road that runs from Conakry, the Guinean capital, to Kindia (Guinea’s fourth largest city) as well as the Khoria and Four Points roadblocks on the road that runs from the capital to Tanènè, a town in western Guinea.
“We filmed all of this footage in about 48 hours”Fodéba Madjid is one of the people from PCUD who secretly filmed these interactions. He explains how he did it secretly in order not to be caught and punished.
There were only two of us filming and we managed to get it all during the span of 48 hours. We went out to film in late September 2016 and we didn’t have to wait long to get this footage. Our strategy was to start filming before even arriving at the roadblock and to put our phones, with the camera still running, in our shirt pockets. None of the people running the roadblocks noticed.
I was really surprised to see how many people in civilian clothes demanded money. Sometimes, it’s impossible to know who is who. Some drivers end up paying multiple people. The people at the checkpoints extort money from everyone, including elderly people and women. Sometimes, they even charge for having children in the car! But, honestly, that doesn’t surprise me. Last April, they demanded a bribe from a minister [link in French] because they didn’t recognise him!
Since we finished filming, we’ve returned several times to the different roadblocks and nothing has changed. Our goal is to put a stop to this.
The authorities often say that they are going to remove the roadblocks and punish the people responsible but, in reality, they just keep coming back.
"These roadblocks are supposed to improve security but we don’t see any real measures”This initiative was part of a project launched by PCUD called "Stop MalGouv" [Editor’s note: “Stop BadGov”, as in “stop bad governance”]. This project aims to survey corruption within Guinea.
PCUD’s president, Abdourahamane Sano, is disappointed that an agreement to shut down these unofficial roadblocks hasn’t been upheld.
In February 2016, an agreement was signed between the main unions in the country to dismantle these unofficial roadblocks. However, we were told by officials that some of these roadblocks were set up for real security reasons. But in reality, on the ground, we don’t see any evidence of that. Often, the people manning these checkpoints don’t have weapons or any kind of detection equipment. Some of these people don’t even wear uniforms, they are just dressed like civilians.
The authorities always say that these roadblocks will be taken down, but they just keep popping up again. Moreover, when we do hand over money, we have no idea where it goes because it is shared between the people running the roadblocks.
Not "within the remit" of the Ministry of Defence
When the team at FRANCE 24 Observers contacted a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Defence, that person said that this issue was not “within their remit” even though the footage filmed by the NGO shows soldiers and gendarmes who report to the Ministry of Defence.
We also contacted the department of the gendarmes responsible for road safety. The deputy commander, Michel Koly Sovogui, said:
Our gendarmes who work at the roadblocks have to undergo special training and they have an ethics code that they are supposed to follow. To my knowledge, no member of the road safety team works with any of the four roadblocks you cited. Some of the people manning these roadblocks also carry out patrols, but we don’t have any authority over that. There might be a few black sheep out there, but we haven’t been made aware of any instance in which our men asked for bribes [within the past year].
We also contacted the spokesperson for the Guinean government about this issue. If he responds to our request for an interview, we will update this article.
Watch the full film by the PCUD NGO: