African Kidnapping

African Kidnapping

Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance eclipsed an historical moment over the weekend in Tanzania: Tanzania now has as many high profile kidnappings as Nigeria.

Four days ago two purportedly “white” kidnappers allegedly staked out a high profile gym in the main city of Dar-es-Salaam before sunrise. When Africa’s youngest billionaire arrived for his morning workout, they stiffed him into a car, shot widely into the air and sped loudly and defiantly away.

Forty-three year old Mohammed Dewji is Africa’s youngest billionaire and widely popular in Tanzania. Fondly known as “Mo,” he’s regularly seen driving himself to stores and restaurants often to the accolades of local people on the street who recognize him.

He specially endeared himself to Tanzanians when he announced he was giving away half his fortune to benevolent causes.

But Mo is only the most recent in a number of kidnappings which remain unsolved in Tanzania.

The popular musician Roma Mkatoliki; former head of the research and policy department of the opposition political party, Ben Saanane; journalist Azory Gwanda; and the former chairman of the Tanzania Medical Association, Dr. Steven Ulimboka, are the most high profile of the abductions in the last couple years.

None of these other high profile abductions seem to be for money, since the abductees were not rich.

Joining Nigeria in this plague is a feat for Tanzania, given that the country is so much smaller geographically and economically than Nigeria.

My second novel will be out next year, Kidnapped in Nigeria. Based on my own light kidnapping in 1985 in Kano, Nigeria, this was the time that kidnapping really started up in Nigeria.

Since then almost all kidnapped persons in Nigeria have been very wealthy and held for ransom which is often paid, which of course promotes further such abductions. So at least until Mo was kidnapped last Thursday, Tanzania’s type of kidnappings were much different from Nigeria’s.

Nigerian kidnapping has never really stopped, although it slowed just after the turn of the century when the country started to grow so substantially. So there’s a key to why there’s kidnapping of wealthy individuals in the first place: economic hardships.

Not that I’m justifying impoverished kidnappers. Much of the moral rectitude any human society requires to remain stable falls on the poor. Until we change the way society is organized and enriches itself, that won’t change.

But poverty is a good explanation for a lot of bad things that happen in society, and kidnapping is one of them. Many of the kidnappings in Nigeria were undertaken by educated, well skilled persons desperate for food.

There’s no social safety net in Nigeria: no unemployment compensation, no food stamps, no retraining programs. Crime becomes the only solution.

But perhaps more troubling are the unsolved kidnappings of unrich people in Tanzania: musicians who had a political bent, opposition politicians and journalists.

The only ransom successfully pressed against these abductions is the apparent murder of those snatched.

That elevates Tanzania’s kidnappings into a much more onerous realm than Nigeria’s and puts it squarely with that of Jamal Khashoggi’s.

Khashoggi was lost in Turkey, a country known for its intense policing. Dewji was lost in Tanzania, a country hardly known for any effective policing. Perhaps effective policing doesn’t matter.

When the mendacious arrogance of the powerful, or the desperation of the impoverished assert themselves.