We think that when we face death we’ll act justly— That’s what keeps us the same.
Immediately, he lifted his AK47, pointed it to my head, clocked it and shouted “Stop.” Angry, I released the clutch and accelerated ferociously. My friend, David, ducked instinctively, as we raced off, adrenaline, fear and anger all vying for dominance, while I was trying to figure out if risking my life was worth trying to teach police that I rejected their intimidation methods.
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3 years ago, while out with a few friends in Maputo, Mozambique, we got stopped at a police checkpoint. It was 2AM, which is the equivalent of 7PM in most other countries. Meaning, it was when you chatted to friends, went out and connected with people (I always say, the party begins by about mid-night in Maputo, best to arrive at 1 AM.)
A youngish looking man in a police uniform with an AK47 strapped closely in front of him, gruffly asked for identification. He was not wearing a name tag, which implied that he and his colleagues were not on duty, just out to collect bribes and probably didn’t want to be identified.
Instead of offering my identification I requested his and pointed out there was no name tag — How was I supposed to know if he was for real (it’s not uncommon that police uniforms are stolen or misused in Mozambique.) The police officer informed me that I had no right to request his identification and that he was requesting mine. At this point I told him that if he wasn’t willing to identify himself as a police officer, I was driving off in 10 seconds. He flatly refused, and I counted down silently in my head.
( Backstory: In 2015, Police in Mozambique had reached an intolerable point in Mozambique — Outright extortionists they plagued the roads, ruined the economy of the tourist industry and made life hell on earth for anyone without the largest bravado or a clear understanding of what was and wasn’t allowed in the country.
A week earlier, in a Northern city, a police officer had just shot and killed a random person in a roadblock for disrespecting him. There was little respect for law and random gun-shots for intimidation were also not uncommon. Clocking a gun was simply a way of intimidating almost anyone at roadblocks. Mostly these police were not authorized to collect traffic related fines or even investigate vehicles, it was often pure thuggery, extortion and crime. )
So, as I reached the end of my countdown I looked stonily ahead and put my car in gear — I wasn’t going to be intimidated be this man. They were abusing the most vulnerable people on the road and I was going to show him that I was not going to accept it.
I’ve almost made it a habit to question authority. Yes, it’s within my character to be brash and a little outlandish, but our economies in Africa (and other countries) are plagued by a population which accepts the corruption and lack of services from it’s public servants and abusive business practices from it’s private sector.
The proverb, the people get the leader they deserve rings true. If we don’t fight for truth and justice, then we don’t deserve good leaders, and no one will do it for us. It is our right and duty to, as citizens, make our voices heard, even if it is not popular or acceptable. If we don’t speak up in our moment of strength, when it can help and benefit others, who will stand up for us when we are old or in our moment of weakness.
Social change does not happen because of soft, fuzzy feelings inside politicians. It’s because vocal elements in the population stand up, raise their voices and question their right to rule. They demand better services, justice and a range of dignified rights. And what about when the laws are unjust? Then it’s time to stand up to those and make voices heard about the same and bring about legislative reform.
We do not become better people with age — Just tireder, weaker and less willing to fight. We must stand up now while we have the chance and become the people we imagine we’d be in 10 or 15 years from now, or the people we’d imagined we’d be 10 years ago.
We don’t become better. Time doesn’t solve, it disrupts. Start sowing your own seeds of disruption in your life today and become a better person — The one you expect yourself to be in 5 years,… only now.
I’m not saying, disrespect authority, but often it’s authority which needs to be addressed whether in demonstrations, consultations, demands, letters of request or even conversations. This was an extreme event which underscored the prevailing craziness of the time and I don’t recommend people do this unless they feel they are in danger, and if so, drive directly to the nearest police station so they can follow you (which was the recommended policy in South Africa after dark.)
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I’m on this journey of self-discovery, of finding truth and of living a life worth living — One worth sacrificing for. I often find myself falling short of the standards I put in front of myself, so this is one of my cathartic moments: Starting to write again. Believing I have a message should do what I set out to do. Finish and complete.