Detained at Tunduma After travelling Southern Africa intensively for the past 18 Years (since 1997), I am still of the opinion that Tunduma/Nakonde is probably one of the worst border experiences one can dream about.
Tunduma is the border post in the south of Tanzania when crossing into Zambia.It is normally quite quick and easy to leave a country and more complicated to enter a new country. Zambia is no exception especially if you need to enter in the north at Nakonde.
The construction of the new border post buildings on the Zambian side was completed earlier this year and I thought that we were going to have a plain sailing border crossing. We were 14 people travelling in 7 expedition vehicles (most of them insured by Cross Country) and arrived at Tunduma just before nine. We quickly got our passports stamped at Immigration and with the help of our Carnet de Passage documents got the vehicles cleared at Customs. From here we moved on to the new buildings on the Zambian side. Immigration, Customs and the payment of the road toll (in US $) went smooth and then we needed some Zambian Kwacha (Zambian currency) to pay the Council Levy and Carbon Tax.
Over all the years travelling in Africa, I learned on the hard way that one do not change money on the black market at border posts unless there is no alternative. Apart from the fact that is illegal in most cases, these guys are not well known for honesty, and you are normally on the losing end.
There is a Bureu de Change on the Zambian side that we always make use of and we went there to each change $200 per vehicle for fuel and other expenses when travelling through Zambia. They are normally very cautious when changing foreign currency (US Dollars) and do not except worn and old notes (pre 2006). The lady behind the counter helped us one by one without having a problem with any of our notes. We went back to pay the Council Levy and the Carbon Tax. We were almost done and ready to leave when the same lady that helped us at the Bureu de Change came to the cars and informed us that one of us gave her a counterfeit $ 100 note. I asked her to identify the person who gave it to her and of course she was unable to. I explained to her that we cannot take responsibility for it as she was supposed to make sure that the money she received from a client was real before changing, and letting the client to leave the counter.
We were furthermore not convinced that the money came from one of us, and not from somebody else in another transaction the previous day. When we refused to give her a substitute note, she went to report the case to the police. They come down to hear what the problem was and we explained exactly to them what happened. One of the guys in our group checked the remaining Dollars of each car just to make sure that one of us did not accidentally had counterfeit money but were all happy and satisfied that it was not the case.
Then the police instructed the seven men to come upstairs to their office while the women waited under supervision of police in the vehicles. They locked the door and questioned us and waited for one of us to make a confession. That is when I phoned an Advocate friend of mine in Pretoria. I had the phone on speaker so that they could follow the conversation. He called his correspondents in Lusaka and in 15 minutes I had a call from the law firm in Lusaka to assure us that they will be on standby should we need any legal assistance.
In the meantime I made a fake call without the speaker. I spoke Afrikaans and when they asked me whom I was phoning, I said that I was reporting the incident with the South African Embassy. I think the two phone calls made them change their attitude and modus operandi. They told us to drive under escort with them to the police station where they will search our vehicles for more counterfeit money and other illegal substances. When in a situation like this in a foreign country, you have to keep your calm and within limits, do what you are asked to do.
The lady from the Bureu de Change was helped onto the Police vehicle and we followed it under escort out of the border post. On arrival at the police station about 3 kilometers further, we waited for about another 15 minutes, which felt like hours, before they started to search my vehicle. The policeman literally unpacked and unzipped everything. He started in front….unpacked the glove box, search the little compartments in the sun visors and emptied all the zip bags of the seat covers. He definitely wanted to make a statement to see if he could scare off some of the other people to get them to come forward with a confession.
Then he moved to the back of the vehicle and left nothing untouched. In the meantime more police officers arrived and started to search the other cars. They did not do it as thorough and the process were speed up a bit. Of course, they could not find anything suspicious or illegal, but kept us waiting for probably another half an hour before we were called into an office in the police station. There were about six police officers sitting there and I almost got the feeling of what it may feel like to be an accused in court. The one made a speech and said that they could not find anything to charge us with. They gave me, as the party leader, the opportunity to say something but as it is sometimes better not to say too much, I kept the words that I wanted to say for myself and we were released.
We were detained and delayed for quite a time, but everybody got the message; When changing money at a Bureu de Change on a border, you have to make sure that the cashier is also happy with your transaction before leaving the counter. On our way back to the main road we drove passed the lady from the Bureu de Change, no transport any more….. she had to walk the three kilometres back to her office on the border…….. All border crossings in most African countries can present problems from time to time,one merely needs to remain calm and respectful and go through the process!