I had taken a trip by road from Delhi to Goa, a 2000km drive to see a part of India that I had never seen before. The western route from Delhi took me through a large part of Rajasthan.
The number of toll booths in the state of Rajasthan was roughly one toll booth for approximately every 50-60km, which hikes the cost of travel by one rupee per km. Most of the tolled roads were not even toll worthy as they had traffic coming on the wrong side, with cattle and people walking in the middle and vegetation in the median hiding more cattle. Accidents involving a cow could get further complicated and ruin a well-planned road trip, which is a very real possibility, especially at night. While I was musing on this aspect of India, my mind went back to Togo a west African country.
Lome is the capital and Togo is the country and the citizens are usually referred to as Togolese. Like many countries around it, it is usual in Togo that there is a coup and a military officer becomes the President until he is dethroned and another one takes over. Such regimes are awfully corrupt and the leader is surrounded by his chelas, chamchas and cronies, who make sure that their source of bread and butter comes to no harm.
Gnassingbé Eyadéma was a military dictator who ruled Togo for nearly 38 years from 1967 to 2005. What he did with the country’s coffers apart from enriching himself and those of his cronies is anybody’s guess, but when it came to payment for his soldiers down the ranks there was no money, and he hit upon a novel idea to pay the armed forces.
The main arterial roads in Lome were given to his military officers, who would stop every passing vehicle and demand to see the papers. If the car papers were all right, then it was the insurance, if the insurance was fine, then it was the identity and if everything was in order the army would find some reason to harass the owner. So to avoid trouble, the people would pay 500CFA (one US dollar) and they would wave the car on. A major/lieutenant colonel/colonel rank officer along with his men controlled one side of the road and another would control the other side along with his men. The money collected during the day was the source of livelihood for the soldiers. The whole city was divided up and given to various army units who made money out of vehicles passing by. Senior military officers had surrounding towns to themselves to make money in various ingenious ways, that they deemed fit without ruffling too many feathers.
Lome Airport had the same story. Customs/immigration and security had their share. By the time a passenger was out of the aircraft and in the taxi, they would have paid over 5-10 US dollars to save themselves from harassment. While I was transiting through Rajasthan on my way to Goa, the highway toll booths reminded me a lot of Togo. There was one major difference – unlike Togo, the toll booths were manned by civilians in Rajasthan.