Picture the scene. You are a humanitarian aid worker in a troubled part of the world. You have been stopped at a roadblock. The armed soldiers who have the power to let you through seem to want a bribe.
You are not keen. It may add to the climate of corruption and lawlessness which is one of the area's problems. You would prefer your organisation's limited resources to go on direct help for those most in need.
How would you handle it? How would you get through the roadblock to continue your work, without antagonising powerful people or getting involved with corrupt practices?
By the end of the activity students will be able to:
- state some key principles aid workers use to navigate a roadblock safely
- explain how a humanitarian worker might respond if armed soldiers at a roadblock asked for a bribe
- assess how the skills needed to deal with armed soldiers might generalise to more everyday situations in students' own lives.
Use the scene as an exercise for students. It could be a classroom discussion, a written exercise, some ideas to sketch out for homework or a full-blown, improvised role play.
Introduce the following suggestions at an appropriate point to help stimulate ideas or guide discussion. The main advice is to be courteous, respectful and friendly. Some officials who normally insist on a bribe seem flattered and pleased when treated kindly, and waive the bribe as a result.
Consider the following, if appropriate to your personality, to the context and the culture:
- In answer to the question: “Have you got a little present for me?” answer: “Yes – a smile” – and smile genuinely as you do so.
- Good humour, the time to talk for a minute or two and have a joke together – these are sometimes quite sufficient to persuade a soldier at a checkpoint not to insist on a bribe. Often he is bored, and is grateful to be treated as a human being.
- Explain why you are not able to pay the bribe. Have various simple phrases that do not sound like an accusation of corruption – for example: “My head office doesn’t allow me to pay any fee that isn’t official.”
- If a soldier is insistent, say that you are not able to pay the bribe, but that you are willing to speak to his commander. (The soldier will often not want his commander involved.)
- Be prepared to wait. Patience cures many problems, while impatience often increases the pressure to pay a bribe. At a checkpoint, when you have reached an impasse, be prepared to wait an hour or two while you keep negotiating politely, if it’s important to you to get through. Otherwise, consider turning back and trying again another day. In the meantime, you could inform the higher military or police authorities of the problem that you faced and get them to do something about it.
The skills to negotiate a roadblock might transfer to more everyday situations in young people's lives. Talk about other awkward situations where a relaxed, friendly attitude is better than confrontation.
This resource was written by PJ White. It was first published in June 2005 and revised in April 2013 to remove references to a security guide for humanitarian organisations.