Blog 59 by Tan: The Curious Case of the Bowlegged Bandit Talk about being kicked while you are down! To us it was immediately obvious; the robbery...
Blog 58 by Tan: A Reunion, A Concussion and a Case of Collusion Finding ourselves visiting with Caleb and Joanna was a fantastic and unexpected treat. As...
Blog 57 by Mick: Africa’s new “Hell Road” We had already gotten our passports stamped in Omorate when we left for Kenya. The day previous, we had...
Blog 56 Update by Tan: Omo 10 months later: (yes we are 10 months behind in our blog and yes we are filled with shame) In the...
Blog 56 by Tan: The Last Gasps of the Omo We woke up overjoyed to find that we hadn’t just dreamt we were at Dick and Donna’s;...
Blog 55 by Mick: Riding the Wild Side of the Omo With all the people about in the morning, we got away later that we would have...
Blog 54 by Mick: Go West Young Man We weren’t even on the outskirts of Bure when the road turned to dirt, not the way we were...
Blog 53 by Mick: Mud and Soap Operas Debark, our home for the evening, is the gateway to the Simien Mountains and is set up as a...
Blog 52 by Tan: Beware the Singing Little Girls After all the excitement of Danakil we were happy to chill in Mekele until we’d caught up on...
Blog 51 by Tan: The Geologists’ Nirvana of the Danakil Depression – PART 2 After next to no sleep the previous night we crashed out in anticipation...
We are a geologist and mining engineer by profession but world travelling, adventure seeking nomads by nature. After years spent happily ensconced in the bosom of the Australian mining industry we have decided it was time to live the dream and travel a large portion of the globe on the back or our trusty Suzuki DR650s….
Talk about being kicked while you are down! To us it was immediately obvious; the robbery had all the hallmarks of an inside job and figured if we played things right we might be in with a chance of being reunited with at least some of our pilfered goods, with a bit of luck. Fortunately the almost ludicrously simple nature of what had unfolded allowed us to very quickly move on from the natural response of getting upset to strategising our response.
To our immense frustration, the hotel ticked every box we have for deciding on a place to stay the night. Firstly, it was one of the first hotels we came across on entering town, which meant very few people would have seen us arrive. It also had a tall, solid fence all around the property so it was impossible to see the bikes from the road, we could park the bikes right next to our room, there was a guard on duty (resplendent in fancy uniform complete with beret), the room was right next to reception, the door was solid, there were good burglar bars on the windows, and the place was pretty much empty at the time. Plus it was reasonably priced; in Tanzania very cheap and dodgy hotels can be had for USD2 and slightly less cheap and less dodgy hotels for USD4-5, so this one even at USD7 was distinctly ‘mid-range’. So we checked in, paid our money and went to the room to chill before getting hungry and heading out to dinner.
This is a picture of the bike parked next to our hotel room which is the door you can see on the right.
I went to get our room key so we could lock up and go to a little roadside food stall less than 200m away. I walked into reception, where I first met a pudgy man in blue boxer shorts and a white singlet sitting on a couch reading a newspaper. I said that I was looking for the receptionist and he got up and ran to track him down for me. It was a rather enthusiastic response that made me think that he might work at the hotel. I was just about to ask him if he did when the receptionist showed up and gave me the key. Before leaving I remember noticing that the guy with the newspaper was quite bowlegged. I watched him walking and wondered how physically difficult if was to have that condition.
Anyway we headed off for a cheap dinner and less than an hour later we were back in our now unlocked room devoid of a lot of our stuff. We were gutted to lose the laptop and hard drive especially but were relieved to see it was not the hard drive we used for backing up. Our new-ish point and shoot camera and my i-phone were gone as well. On top of that we were seriously disappointed to see both our custom molded earplugs were taken. For one thing, being custom molded they were bugger all use to anyone else and secondly they just so happened to be our most treasured bit of non-essential kit. We had them made before we left home and at AU$220 a set they were a significant investment.
The big saving grace however was that the thief didn’t trawl heavily through our stuff or he would have found a heck of a lot of USD stashed in a few sneaky spot through our luggage in readiness for our Congo crossing. Also he missed our good camera (USD1000 worth of Fuji X100S), the one we love like it was a person. Likewise we had to say a quiet thanks the thief didn’t get a hold of our various bank cards meaning we could avoid the inconvenience of canceling and trying to receive replacements. So it was bad, but not as bad as it could have been.
We walked outside and told the receptionist someone had opened the door to our room and had taken our stuff. The guard who’d been standing by the gate came and we told him what had happened. We got pretty much no reaction from either one. We asked if they wanted to call the hotel owner. We asked if they saw anything. But our questions were met with utter silence. That our room was unlocked (there was no sign of forced entry) and raided while we were away for maybe 45-50 minutes we found pretty suspicious. Very few people in town would have seen us arrive. The hotel was basically empty. There were only 2 people about, the receptionist and the guard. It was pretty obvious where to start.
And here is the door to reception. You can see its a pretty nice place indeed and actually at the upper end of the scale compared to where we usually stay.
We told them we were prepared to forget that it has happened and that we just want our stuff back. Both the circumstances and the reactions indicated they were involved, yet they seemed to have neglected to think about what they would do when the stuff was inevitably discovered missing. They were acting so guilty and dodgy that it was almost funny. We tried to keep things civilized and calm yet these guys were even silent when we asked if they had seen anyone leaving the hotel. Then we asked where the pudgy bowlegged guy who was sitting in receptions was. They pretended to have no idea who I was talking about – what guy? And that essentially confirmed it. I know I saw the man – he was the guy who got the receptionist so I could get the key! I mean sheesh… if I were going to go crazy and mentally conjure up a non-existent man lounging around in his underwear, he’d look a lot more like Brad Pitt than a middle aged Tanzanian bloke with the build of a professional full-time meat pie taster.
At this point two other guests, one of whom spoke English well, returned to the hotel and helped us. We got them to tell the guard and receptionist that all we wanted back was our stuff and that we don’t want trouble with Police. We offered that if we got our laptop, hard-drive and headphones back whomever had the rest could keep it and we’d leave town that night. Otherwise we would involve the cops and make a big hassle for everyone. The guys looked at each other and while they didn’t say anything, they actually seemed to be mulling the offer over. We asked about master keys. No response. We asked if they had even seen anyone leave the hotel. They looked at each other, yet still no response. That they couldn’t answer such simple questions had us rather politely suggesting to them that we believed they waited until we left the hotel, took a second room key, and opened the door and took our stuff. We asked them what they thought about that. Crickets.
The other guests lost their patience at this point and started asking the guys more forcefully and went at them in Swahili for a minute or two. Eventually they admitted there was another man there but they thought he was our tour guide and translator. The guard said he saw him enter our room immediately after we left the hotel. He even took a backpack full of things out of the room and walked out of the hotel and down the street. We were all like, “Man you’re a guard. You saw us leave and walk down the road, and then someone walk into our room after we left, take a backpack full of stuff and walk off in the opposite direction! You didn’t think there was anything suspicious about that!” We called bullshit on his tour guide/translator claim, the guard saw us show up on two motorcycles with no one else; hell, he waved us through the gate and initially showed us where to park the bikes. He knew we came with no tour guide, and certainly not with an overweight, bowlegged bloke in his boxer shorts and singlet on the back of our bikes. Bullshit of such monumental proportions would make Trump blush, orange spray-tan and all.
Here I am the next day looking a bit miffed. You can see the place looked pretty secure. The good fence didn’t protect against thieves from inside.
We kept trying to get the staff to contact the hotel owner but they just would not respond. We told them that we were and exceeding bad choice of target to rob; unlike most foreigners in the country we had no jobs, our own transport and bulk time to sort this out. We have also been described as tenacious. We tried to reason and threatened Police involvement, we told them we would to stay in town as long as it takes – “We will stay for weeks! You understand? We will visit the Police everyday!” – but we got nowhere, so we went through with our threat and Mick went off to report the matter to the cops.
Not long after he left, another guest returned to the hotel and asks what all the fuss is about. Once the last hour worth of events was explained, it hits him to check his room, and he soon returns with a look near to fury on his face. His door has also been unlocked and his laptop is also missing.
Being after hours it took Mick some time to track down someone at the police station that could speak English. When they heard what happened they were very responsive and keen to address the issue. Mick filled out a report and eventually two cars full of police officers (about 12 in all) arrived at the hotel, all in civilian clothes with a few brandishing some serious weapons. It was an enthusiastic response to say the least. They started checking out the hotel and talking to the receptionist and the guard. Very early in the piece they said it appeared very much like an inside job. So with that they took away the guest register along with the receptionist and the guard to interview them. It was about 11pm when the police left. There was nothing to do but go to bed and wonder how things would play out the following day.
The next day David, the other fellow who was robbed, asked me to come and tell the hotel owner what I knew about the robberies. The owner seemed like a nice enough guy and the impression I got from him was that he didn’t seem directly involved. He seemed quite worried about the whole situation and asked what I suggested was the best way to resolve this. It seemed at the time he was asking how much money we wanted to resolve the issue but I couldn’t be sure.
This was the restaurant we went for dinner at that fateful night. It became our local while killing time during the investigation. These are the type of places we typically ate at while in Tanzania.
I told him I was still holding out hope that we could retrieve our stolen items. How hard could it be to get the laptop back from likely known and seemingly unsophisticated robbers in a small town where everyone talks and knows everyone else’s business? It was only 12 hours since the robbery, it was highly likely the goods were still in town. I suggested he talk to his employees, and spread the message around town offering money for information and perhaps use any contacts in Arusha to keep an eye out for a used Macbook Air coming up for sale. Our focus was to be reunited with our goods and put the issue behind us. We weren’t after punishment or retribution. This was clearly a bad situation for everyone. He said he would speak to everyone he knows.
From there we moved to a nearby hotel as the current one didn’t feel secure, especially with the receptionist and guard now up in the big-house. The hotel we moved to shared a lot of similar features to the last one so it didn’t take us long to figure out it was also owned by the same man. We thought this was a good move nonetheless. We hoped it would be seen as a sign of good faith in the owner with the added bonus that, with all the police pressure they’d be guarding our room like Fort Knox.
Next up we went to the police station to where we spoke to a senior police officer. She informed us they were taking the crime very seriously, that the guard and receptionist were being kept in prison and that the police had closed the hotel for the duration of the investigation. We made additional statements and provided them a detailed list of the items that were stolen.
The meat was always fresh and cooked slowly over charcoal making it soft and tasty….mind the bones.
We met the two detectives assigned to the case, who seemed competent and focused. The high value of the goods stolen from both rooms seemed to be a big deal to them. They explained how, before becoming detectives, they were members of the robbery squad, which seemed a pretty hardcore gig. The major robberies (proper large scale, high value thefts like heavy equipment and fuel tanker jackings) they investigated were often carried out by former military personnel who were well coordinated and heavily armed. They were often fired on in the course of their investigations and a number of their colleagues had been shot – it was serious business. They said serious criminals don’t start out as serious criminals, they start small. To them our robbery was the work of people that, even it they didn’t know it yet, were climbing the criminal ladder.
Additionally we learned the Tanzanian government took such thefts against foreigners quite seriously. Tourism is an integral part of the country’s economy and there is a big wide world of places competing for tourist dollars. Using a second key to rob a hotel room was simply too easy and tempting. Hotels could not be allowed to get away with such a fundamental breach of trust.
The positive police response combined with our resolution to stay in town, visit the cops once or twice daily and (tactfully) apply as much pressure as possible… well, it looked at least a little encouraging. However, even if we never saw our stuff again, we were determined to make life as difficult as possible for these fiends. We resolved to hang around and be a royal pain in the arse, and with so much at stake it was something we didn’t think we would struggle with.
Good and cheap simple food with friendly and hard working ladies running the show.
Another thing working in our favour was that the other fellow who had is laptop stolen consulted for the government, which meant confidential government files were on his laptop. The robbery was swiftly escalated to a regional and then national level, and soon the little copshop in Singida was receiving phonecalls from bigwigs in the capital. Funny how that works…
We soon got more encouraging feedback when we were contacted by a detective seeking the IMEI number for our phone and laptop to send the cyber crime division in Dar Es Salaam so they could track our items. While we didn’t have them on us, we managed to source them from our records back home which we passed on to the cyber ninjas. (Note to all, keep a record of the IMEI codes of your electronics when you travel). We crossed our fingers on this one but weren’t convinced they’d succeed in tracking the phone as we were not running local sims at the time.
With nothing more to do we went and bought a new phone. A new I-phone was out of the question, but for a small sum I got a nice new Chinese smartphone that would do the job well enough.
A typical roadside meal in Tanzania. Pretty good, eh?
We needed a phone sure, but we mainly just wanted another reason to drop into the police station again, like to give them our new contact number. We thought our best bet to maintain momentum and get somewhere with the investigation was to let everyone know we were still hanging around. However we were aware we didn’t want to annoy the police by constantly hovering over them or giving an impression of a lack confidence. So we spent a good part of our time coming up with credible excuses to justify our frequent visits. “Ok so lets go to the station and tell them we have our family in Australia getting the IMEI number and ask if they could pass the message on to cyber crimes in Dar for us as we have no new phone yet. Then tomorrow morning we can go into the station with the IMEI number and then in the afternoon we can give them our new phone number.” So that is how we managed it.
With nothing much to do but wait we decided that we had watched enough cop shows to carry out some of our own inquiries. I got talking to various people about the robbery and asked what they thought about it. Every time I told the story of what happened I’d be interrupted by people saying things like “oh, that’s an inside job, no question the staff are involved.” The owner of the nearby convenience store was convinced this was the case. I asked if he had heard of any similar trouble before with that hotel and he said no, he hadn’t, he thought the owner seemed like a nice man and he could not think he was involved. But he did tell me that he knew the hotel staff were family of the owner. Interesting…
But by far the most helpful information was from the English speaking guest who had helped us with translation the night of the robbery at the hotel. He travelled a lot and the week previous he had complained to the owner that he had a phone stolen from his locked room. He agreed to give a statement to the Police of this fact.
We met with our two detectives again in the Police Station who further encouraged us that we might well get our stuff back. Then they went and got the receptionist and brought him into the room with us to conduct an ‘interview’. They obviously had us there to intimidate him. It was a bloody awkward situation but intriguing to watch. It was all happy families for most of it. The receptionist came into the crowded office we said hello, he kind of nodded, and there was some joking amongst the Police in Swahili. They started asking him to tell us what happened that night and who was at the hotel. One of the detectives was even somewhat affectionate to him patting his shoulder when he spoke or touching his forearm when asking a question like they were friends. I told the detectives about the large, bowlegged bloke with the newspaper and how he was at the hotel when we left for dinner and not when we returned. The receptionist still claimed there was no such man.
Soon there was a forth cop in tiny room with us and they were starting to hammer him with questions and telling him to start talking. And then, all of a sudden he started. He started talking a lot and seemed close to spilling. They asked again about the man I saw that he denied was there. Then he says yes, someone was there but he thought the man was our tour guide. Whack! The affectionate copper clips him with a pretty full blooded open hand to the back of the head, yells at him and pushes him into the corner. He then grabs him again and after a decent back swing, belts him hard on the shoulder and winds up for a second go before backing out; the receptionist is cowering in the corner and trying to protect his head with his cuffed hands. The next instant, he gets in close and helps him up and is all affectionate again, and the 4 cops immediately revert to friendly banter and even the receptionist is smiling. This guy was seriously channeling Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue. Old School good-cop-bad-cop before our very eyes. We could see how effective it must be, it was intimidating just to watch.
It seems to have worked on the receptionist as all of a sudden he admitted that he knew the guy I was describing. But under further questioning he took it back and said he didn’t know the man. “NYPD Andy” blows up again and lifts his right hand up to ‘motivate’ him some more, but gave up in disgust. They decide to let the fella go for now, and escort him out of the office. I could hardly process what just happened…
Plenty of down time to drink tea and read books.
So, the Investigation Continues…
Another day, another visit to the Copshop. This time they had news for us. The receptionist had told them about the missing newspaper reading guest that we think probably robbed us. We were informed his name was Peter and that he was a tour guide in Arusha and that he might have taken the stolen goods to Arusha to sell. The receptionist told the police where this Peter is said to hangout and we were told they would soon go to find him. Could we really have unmasked the Bowlegged Bandit?
We later returned to the police station as requested with muted hope, only to find they had failed to locate Bowlegged-Pete. But they were about to head out again and this time they wanted us to come along to help identify him. And that is how we found ourselves on a proper police ride-along. And if this experience wasn’t already sufficiently odd, they brought along the handcuffed receptionist too.
While riding through the centre of town looking for the Bowlegged Bandit the detectives were called to attend a nearby disturbance. Tanzania was in the grips of its federal election and campaigning was at its peak with just a week to go. It was shaping up to be a tough fought election pitting the current ruling party that had been in power since 1977 up against a far-right party headed by a rich and experienced businessman politician whose primary voting base was young, urban males, especially the disenfranchised ones. It was a common tactic on both sides to pay a rent-a-mob to create trouble at rallies of the opposing parties. These disturbances had a habit/goal of turning violent.
We pull up at a small gathering of the current ruling party to see a young man shouting and starting to make a nuisance of himself. Soon a truck full of police in riot gear show up. Our detective went and grabbed the guy and chucked him in the back of the truck before returning to the car. He then excused himself for needing to stop and arrest the protestor. I was like “oh that’s fine” *high pitched voice*. While this was happening it was just Mick and I in the back of the car and the receptionist in the passenger seat… you know, the guy that has been in the lockup and getting the odd clip around the chops because of us. To say it was uncomfortable for me was an understatement. I noticed the receptionist seemed pretty chilled up front.
A sneaky photo I grabbed with my phone of us returning to the scene of the crime with the detectives and the receptionist. The receptionist is in yellow.
We continued our search for the Peter aka the Bow-legged Bandit. We go to a cheap hotel and the guard there says he knows Peter. I describe the man I saw to him – his height, hair, big beer belly and distinctive walk. The guy said yes that is Peter on all counts, but faltered a little on the walk. He said that perhaps he did walk a bit strangely. The last comment being a bit discouraging as it was a very distinctive gait and leg shape that he had. But the man confirmed that “yes, he is a tour guide and lives in Arusha.” He then gave us Peter’s phone number. According to the fellow Peter was still in town! We were closing in.
We were just around the corner from the original hotel so we dropped in with the detectives and the receptionist so they could inspect the hotel room themselves. The hotel was still closed for business and wouldn’t be opening until the police were satisfied the investigation was complete. As soon as the detectives saw how secure the hotel and especially our room was they got very annoyed at the receptionist laughing at how obvious it was he and the guard had carried out the theft.
They spoke with the cleaning lady that was there when we checked in (she showed us into reception) and she admitted that when we checked in there was no one else at the hotel. And that the guard and the receptionist knew we had come alone. This confirmed what we already knew, that the guard and receptionist were lying.
The receptionist pointed out the sign in Swahili that says the hotel is not responsible for stolen items and that they should be kept in the safe. This angered the detectives as they said disclaimers like this only apply if the hotel has fulfilled all its responsibilities, it can’t allow strangers to walk in and out. Just because they put a sign up doesn’t mean they have no responsibilities. Plus he told the receptionist we don’t read Swahili, “did he tell us of this when we checked in?”
At the local
I reminded these detectives about the English speaking guest who helped us translate the night of the robbery, the man who had his phone stolen from his locked room the previous week. The police wanted to talk to him so I took out the name card the man had given me and noticed….”wow, this guy’s name is Peter too.” Then we noticed the phone number on the card was the same as the one of the assumed Bowlegged Bandit. The detectives, Mick and I were livid. We realised the receptionist had led us on a wild goose chase. He knew quite well that Peter was not the bowlegged person in question. The cops were not happy with having their time wasted; ‘NYPD Andy’ got some retaliation of the ‘open hand around the ear’ variety – a couple times actually – and while we turned to walk back to the car he tripped him over so he landed with a big thud on the tiles. I turned to Mick and told him we needed to end this.
With the ruse exposed, the receptionist stopped talking. We told the detectives that Peter was staying at our hotel and if the receptionist wanted to pretend that Peter was the hotel’s elusive newspaper-reading bowlegged man, he could say it to Peter’s face. A few minutes later we met with Peter who confirmed that he was out of the hotel working on the campaign until about 8:30pm and no he was not the newspaper reading man, however the receptionist wasn’t responding any further. With hours wasted, the receptionist playing games, the cops getting physical and us getting more frustrated, we informed the detectives we wanted to pursue a settlement with the owner. A mediation session was set up for the following day.
Negotiations – Day One
The police were of the mind that the owner of the hotel was negligent and needed to pay us a settlement if he could not arrange for the return of the stolen goods. They had what they said was sufficient proof that the owner had not fulfilled his legal responsibilities; in Tanzania all people staying at a hotel must have their details recorded. We were the only ones that were officially checked into the hotel however. In effect this meant hotel management had allowed unregistered people to be milling around at night which represented a security risk to their patrons.
The testimony that the hotel owner had just a week previously been informed by a guest of a break-in to a hotel room and theft of a mobile phone yet he didn’t change any locks or do anything to upgrade security showed negligence on his part. All guests were being placed in an unsafe situation due to his inaction.
The police had told the owner and his representatives to be there at 10am on the dot. We (quite surprisingly) were actually on time, however the owner and his family arrived right on Africa time; 1.5hrs later. Not to worry we thought. We had all the time in the world and wouldn’t allow ourselves to be flustered. We knew the entire key to getting a good resolution was to remain calm and reasonable. Fortunately from Caleb and our other missionary biker mate Jeff, we had come to learn that the Tanzanian culture was one of non-confrontation. With that in mind we thought if we could continue to be calm, friendly and non-confrontational yet determined, we could secure a satisfactory outcome.
The police said they were there to facilitate the negotiation but it was up to us what we wanted to receive and if we would accept a settlement. Here was a sneaky pic I took with my phone of the room we did out mediation in. Our case file is on the table.
Negotiations started slowly as the issues were outlined. Everything was peaceful and polite at the beginning but then the owner’s brother arrived and his manner started to make things a bit adversarial and stressful. Their first negotiation tactic was the guilt trip. He said his brother, the owner, had a nervous condition that leads to panic attacks and that he has a medical certificate to prove this. The owner certainly did look nervous and it did make me feel bad for sure. But the way the brother was going about this made it seem like an intimidation tactic than anything else. We told him we were sorry for this and if he needs to take time away from the meeting at any point we understand. We also pointed out that it was not stressful until the brother had arrived.
The brother continued along with the guilt trip, asking why we blamed the owner when it was obvious he didn’t steal our stuff. No, he didn’t, but we think his staff, his family, either did or more probably knows who did, and he is responsible for his staff. When we mentioned that we knew he was family, there was a bit of a collective ‘gulp’ by the opposing team.
The brother got straight into trying to put the blame on us for leaving our valuables in the room. He said the sign at reception saying management is not responsible for stolen items, meaning they are not liable. We argued that, that only applies when they have fulfilled all their legal obligations as a hotel owner, and the fact that they had people staying in the hotel unregistered means they had failed in that duty of care.
We told the owner that we had an idea about how the robbery was carried out and so do the police. We would like to know what he thought may have occurred; he seemed a bit taken aback by the question. He said that he thought a man off the street must have entered. We said there was a guard on duty and a large fence around the property. He said that the guard cannot see everything, all the time. We said ok but how do you think the person entered the room? We had the key and you say there was no second key available. He said that Tanzania has many skillful lock pickers. We told him we thought it very unlikely that a skillful lock-picker just happened to walk off the street into the hotel, past the guard and pick our door and the door of the other guy who had his laptop stolen, David, an hour after we arrived.
The police said they didn’t believe the lock had been picked and we told him we thought rather someone had used a second set of keys or a master key on both rooms. We asked the owner if he thought it is possible that one of his staff could have stolen a master key or cut a second set of keys and either carried out the robbery or gave the keys to someone else to do it. He wouldn’t answer the question. He went back to saying it must have been a stranger. We gently asked again if he didn’t think it was possible one of his staff did it. Again no answer. When questioned on this matter a few different times by us and the Police, he was very evasive and non-committal about the existence of a master key, leading us to suspect he was protecting his family.
We told him the way we thought it had happened. We arrived at about 6pm to an empty hotel and checked in. We went to our room to wash and rest, and the receptionist phoned the bow-legged man to tell him some foreigners had checked in. An hour later when we get the key to lock our room and go out for dinner, we see the bow-legged man in reception. He has come to the hotel and is waiting for us to leave. We go for dinner and he robs our room and David’s room with a master/second key he has been given by the receptionist. The bow-legged man then later splits the spoils of the theft with the receptionist and the guard. We thought this scenario was much more plausible than “a master lock picker walked in off the street”.
While this was being debated a law trained policeman stepped in and told them we were right and that they were liable under ‘vicarious liability’, as they are responsible for hiring trustworthy people who know their jobs. Additionally the owner had also neglected to address the security issue raised a week previous when a person complained of having his phone stolen from his locked room. The owner had failed to change any locks in the hotel leaving their guests exposed to an unsafe situation. This is negligence and he is confident a judge would rule as such should the matter go to a trial.
This really changed the tone of the negotiation. There was no more talk about it being our fault or being out of their hands. They agreed they needed to take responsibility and that they were up for compensation. So now it was a matter of how much. We provided them the list of goods stolen and approximate values. It all came to about 7 million shillings, about $US3200. We told them we would not seek the cash that was taken as we had no way to prove that it was missing. All the other items stolen we could prove were in our possession prior to the robbery but not after. We also acknowledged that the phone that was stolen was old so we took the settlement price to 6 million.
A friend of the owner countered by offering 1 million shillings, about $US460. We told him this wasn’t even close to a fair offer of compensation. The friend then went on to protest and tell us that they didn’t have much money. The detective had informed us that the owner and his supporters would try to claim that they didn’t have money but not to be fooled by that. He said the owner himself owns three good hotels in Singida alone. He said they are wealthy and even if they weren’t they need to face up to their responsibilities.
The friend started to give attitude and told us “we are not rich, don’t look at my big stomach and think we are rich and eating all the time” and then he explained that he only had a big stomach because they eat a lot of carbohydrates. He went on “we are African, we don’t have money, we only eat one meal a day, we don’t eat three meals a day like you.” This was the only time we got assertive and angry with someone. Firstly these fellas were very well fed guys, and the notion that this fella had missed a meal in his life, let alone 2 a day was laughable. They were dripping in bling and well dressed and among the richest people in town but that was all irrelevant. Mick interrupted him firmly and said, “No, that is unfair you don’t know about us. Do not make assumptions about us and we will not make assumptions about you.” This was the first time they had seen us serious and not happy and it had an affect. Mutual respect was maintained and there were no more “you have more money than me” gaming.
We told them the last thing we want is to be here and all we ever wanted was to stay a night in a decent safe hotel and leave with all our belongings the next morning. This settlement is not what we want but it is what is right. Having a hotel makes you money but it comes with responsibilities too. And you didn’t fulfill them and we among others have paid the price for this. And we deserve to be compensated at least to replace what we have lost due to your negligence.
Another pic of the negotiating table during yet another break in proceedings. Just some random people in the background.
They then took their offer up to 2 million which we communicated was still was far off reasonable for all the stuff we lost. We told them we can work with them and take the settlement fee down further as I had gone and replaced my expensive stolen I-phone with a cheap Chinese alternative phone. So given that we could accept 5 million. They then came up to 3 million. They tried negotiating more and I reminded them that this is not a marketplace where we are arguing the cost of vegetables. This is a meeting to discuss a settlement for a robbery that happened at their hotel a little after an hour after we arrived.
At this point an old man who had been eavesdropping spoke up and gave his 2 cents to the hotel owner and his supporters in Swahili. The detectives and the owner and his crew all laughed and nodded at the old guys tongue lashing. I later asked the detective what was said and he told me the old guy had basically told them to cut the shit. He said they thought they were so smart and that they could treat them (Mick and I) like we were stupid. “You think they are stupid, I can tell you they are not. And if you keep this up you’ll find out yourself. What if they talk to their embassy? What if this goes to court? Pay the money. You know you owe it.”
The owner and his family asked to be excused to discuss things. When they returned they agreed that they would come to the station tomorrow with the 5 million shillings. After 6 or so hours we had an agreement.
Negotiations – Day Two
The owner and his family were late again and the detective let them know it. They had also come with only 3 million shillings. They said it was all they could pay. The detectives cracked it at them and reminded them that they had agreed to 5 million and that now they were simply playing games. It really was a clear ploy to save money, hoping we would opt to save time and just take what they had at hand. Pretty understandable really. Yet we challenged this by telling them we can give them more time to secure the funds they had agreed to pay, which in itself was a clear ploy to get them to pay up rather than have to deal with us any longer.
We told them once again that we were much more interested in getting our goods back than the money. We never wanted any of this. As such we told them we would be willing to hold the 5 millions shillings they give in a bond for 3 months. We told them that we can wait to replace our laptop but only for a maximum of 3 months when we would need to use the money from the settlement. Should they find our stuff, even just one item still in working order between now and then we will return that good’s proportional value of the settlement to them. We would be happy to do this and have good friends in Arusha who could facilitate the transfer of money for the goods with the assistance of the police. We reasoned that this gives everyone more time to get the outcome they want. Our desired outcome is to be reunited with our belongings while they no doubt would like their money back. So the bold proposition gives us all a fair short-term resolution and longer-term opportunity.
They liked the sound of this and it went to show that we weren’t out to bleed them dry, just to retrieve our stuff or have a fair enough settlement to replace most of it. They again agreed to pay the full 5 million shillings and we agreed to meet again at 4pm tomorrow.
Realising for all our travels in Tanzania we neglected to post a picture of the culinary institution that is “Chips Mayai – Chips with egg.” It is everywhere in TZ. And sometimes all that’s on offer. We got sick to death of it, but I look on it now with nostalgia.
The next day we received the full 5 million shillings. The owners friend who had initially given us the attitude in the negotiation gave me the money and apologised for the situation and difficulty. He said they were so sorry that this happened. I also apologised saying that it is a regrettable situation for everyone and that I hoped some items could be tracked down and that we can return this money to them. We agreed that it may be easier to find the items when we had left town and people were more willing to talk knowing they could assist and avoid punishment. We then signed a statement agreeing to the settlement and outlining the repayment agreement should an item be retrieved.
So in the end we walked away with a settlement payment of about $US2300, but not just that we had very positively incentivised the owner and his family and friends to track down the stolen items. We knew we might not see our stuff again but it felt good to know there still remained a chance.
The settlement document.
For what was a pretty unpleasant thing to happen we had managed to achieve as good a resolution as I think we could reasonably hope for. We were happy with the way we had handled things, there were no tears, no raised voices, no voicing of anger, no nastiness and all dealings were polite, calm and collaborative. We were lucky but we were also aware of a number of cultural norms that helped shape our response to the situation.
Despite having a big wad of cash (seriously, the biggest note in Tanzania is 10000 shillings so 5 million is 500 notes and about 15cm thick!) and after what many Africans have gone on to describe as a major win, we didn’t feel great. In a way I felt bad for the owner who I couldn’t shake the feeling was a decent and gentle man. Yet I know that he was at least partly aware and ultimately responsible for these things happening under his roof. It was straight up just a regrettable situation.
The detective had told us that he thinks the settlement is actually a good opportunity for the owner. He was of the mind that the owner probably knew what his family members (the staff) were doing at the hotel. However he hadn’t had the strength to stand up to them about it. Now that he had such trouble result and a lot money paid in settlements he would be able to take back control of the hotel and get rid of the problem family members. We hoped that was the case.
It was worth staying in town for a week to sort matters out, however now if meant we really couldn’t reasonably expect to avoid the rainy season in the Congo. But this issue, like all the ones before it, seemed like just another challenge in need of overcoming.