That is a very popular question that was asked to me so many times in the past. The mere thought of going through a border post in Africa is one of these things that sends a shivering along the spine of most people.
It is interesting how border posts can have a specific culture and how that can change from country to country and also between border posts in the same country. The big commercial posts are normally the more difficult ones while you will find a much more relaxed and informal atmosphere at the small border posts.
It is normally also much easier and quicker to leave a country through a border post than to enter into a new country. When going out you only have to stamp your passport at Immigration and do a declaration at Customs, but when entering a new country there are all sorts of formalities like Road Toll and Levies, Carbon Tax, Third Party Insurance, Council Levies, etc. These formalities are normally handled by independent third party agents. Although time consuming they are normally efficient and do not ask or take any bribes.The biggest problem is normally with Customs officials and official at check points who controls documents.
On a recent safari through Zimbabwe I decided to use the small border post at Pandamatenga to go from Botswana into Zimbabwe. We were a small convoy of six vehicles and going out of Botswana was a song as normal. The small border post on the Zimbabwean side was very neat and the Immigration and Customs official extremely efficient. We went through all the procedure including the road tax and Insurance I no time. As we were getting back into the vehicles, we were approached by two guys who said that they are from Customs and need to check our vehicles. They started with my vehicle and went through everything. They found fuel in some of the Jerry cans of the other vehicles and clearly suggested a bribe to let them through. The owner of that vehicle give them $10 and then they moved on to the next vehicle with the same problem and also collected $10. The alternative to that will be to go back to the Customs counter in the border post building, declare the fuel and pay the required import tax which will be in most cases cheaper than the bribe. Unfortunately tourists are normally in a hurry and that is when they opt for the quicker and easier option.
When entering Mozambique at Komatipoort/Recano Garcia you can expect another interesting scenario. Tourist normally enter there with all there camping gear and provisions and fuel or a week or more. Police search the vehicles and want to see receipts for the goods and proof that import duties were paid. You normally do not have all the invoices. I once took in a brand new generator to use on a fishing trip. It took about an hour to convince the officials that it is camping equipment and not something that I planned to sell in Mozambique. In a situation like that I can justify paying a bribe. The sad thing however is that they know it and that it just get worse by the day.
I once took clients to Western Zambia and we used the Wenella border post at KatimaMulilo. It was on a Sunday and there was a single lady with us in the convoy. She lost her front number plate in Savuti and were pulled out of the convoy at the boom at the border. The guy wanted to give her a fine of $ 30. I took over and insisted on a receipt. His reply was that as it was on a Sunday he could not give her a receipt. He clearly only wanted a bribe but we didn’t pay anything and just drove off without any problem.
You will understand that there is not a simple answer to this question and that every case should be treated on its own merit. I will however suggest that one follows the rules and procedure as far as possible and to avoid paying bribes. Nobody can come away from the fact that it is a criminal and a bad practice………..but sometimes there is unfortunately no alternative.