Every day when Alexis Maluku went to work, he braced himself to dodge police and officials. In his job as a traditional logger in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), harassment from anyone with authority at the Congo river ports is normal. People in uniform seek bribes from workers like Alexis, making daily life an obstacle course.
But what Alexis didn’t expect was to find himself facing serious extortion organised by his business partner, Loboko Miché, in league with the local police.
The pair shared a sawing machine, which Mr Miché wanted for himself, so in May 2018, he bribed police officers US$100 to confiscate the machine from Alexis, without compensation, and arrest him if he tried to resist. After a violent struggle, Alexis was imprisoned by the police, who then gave the machine to Mr Miché as the sole owner.
Mr Miché continued to bribe the police to keep Alexis in prison for as long as possible. While he enjoyed ownership of the machine, Alexis found himself imprisoned indefinitely in dire conditions, without having come before a court.
Police bribery a routine barrier
Sadly, it’s a scenario familiar across the DRC. Many citizens’ livelihoods and freedoms are disrupted by bribery, illegal arrest and false imprisonment by the police — one of the most corrupt institutions in a country where corruption is commonplace.
According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) — Africa, which surveyed more than 47,000 people in 35 African nations about their day-to-day experiences of corruption, 28 per cent of citizens who came into contact with the police in the past year had paid bribes. In DRC, the bribery rate for the police is the highest of all the countries surveyed, with 75 per cent of people who had engaged with the police having paid a bribe in the previous 12 months.
Taking legal steps against corruption
When the Congolese League against Corruption (LICOCO) — Transparency International’s DRC chapter — received a complaint from Alexis’s desperate family in July, staff recognised the problem as part of a wider picture.
The family had begged the police for his release, in vain, until they heard about LICOCO’s Bureau of Legal Assistance and Citizenship (CAJAC). The bureau receives many similar complaints against the police, and offers people legal advice and support to overcome corruption.
CAJAC staff immediately assigned Alexis’s family a lawyer, who wrote to the Public Prosecutor’s Office lodging a complaint against the officers who had arrested him.
When the officers involved received news of the complaint, they hurriedly released Alexis and returned his sawing machine. Although entirely innocent, he had spent two months in illegal detention. Deprived of income, his extended family had endured deep financial hardship.
LICOCO continued to pursue the case with the General Inspectorate of Police, until the police officer in charge was brought before the Prosecutor’s Office and removed from duties.
The other officers involved were replaced and Mr Miché was also arrested.
Following the CAJAC’s help, Alexis is back at work with his sawing machine at the river ports. He often seeks advice from LICOCO on other matters of corruption and spreads the word about the support people can receive from the CAJAC if they come up against bribery from officials.
Standing up to abuse
Based on the case, the CAJAC launched an advocacy campaign aimed at the local authorities and the attorney general, denouncing corrupt practices common among the Congolese police.
Corruption remains part of the daily obstacle course for workers like Alexis, but his case has had a ripple effect, prompting many other complaints to the CAJAC from workers at the river ports. Police behaviour has started to improve, with officers now afraid of facing the same punishments as their colleagues who collaborated with Mr Miché and arrested Alexis.
Unsurprisingly in such a corrupt environment, our research found that only 32 per cent of Congolese think that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. But Alexis’s case shows that with the right support, individuals can help turn the tide of abuse.
This article was written as part of the Global Corruption Barometer 2019 — Africa, the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Africa.
CAJAC is one of Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs), which provide free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. With more than 100 offices in over 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effective way for people to report corruption and demand action. Learn more at www.transparency.org/reportcorruption.