Rare kidnappings in Uganda, Ghana and Kenya – a new trend in Africa?

16 July 2019

News of foreign nationals kidnapped abroad always makes for upsetting reading. But a recent spate of kidnappings in Africa points to the possibility of an unsettling new trend. Countries that rarely witness kidnap for ransom activity - and have not entered the top ten list of kidnapping hotspots for foreign nationals in the last decade - are suddenly on the radar. Before you cancel your business trips or holidays, let’s examine if this is indeed an emerging criminal trend.

There have been at least three high profile and unusual incidents in the past eight months. Last month, on 5 June, two Canadian nationals were kidnapped from outside their hostel in Ghana’s second city and popular tourist destination, Kumasi. Earlier in the year, on 12 April, two Cuban doctors were kidnapped in northeast Kenya – the second high profile kidnapping in the country in the past year after an Italian aid worker was kidnapped from a guesthouse on the southeast coast on 22 November. A further rare incident took place on 2 April, when an American and her local guide were kidnapped from the Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda.

Do these incidents signal a creeping in of activity from nearby countries where kidnapping remains rife? Certainly, neighbouring countries of all three incidents have seen their fair share of the crime. It is not far-fetched to imagine that criminals who see kidnap for ransom as a profitable venture in the DRC, in Somalia or in Burkina Faso, would be eager to expand their reach into neighbouring countries. The most prominent seem to be Nigerian criminal gangs who, having been linked to kidnapping incidents in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and the wider continent, continue to export the crime.

However, for kidnapping to flourish into a pervasive security threat, there are certain prescriptive conditions that are present in most countries where the crime is rife. In other countries, elements including impunity, instability, lack of rule of law, pervasive corruption and absent civil authority, when all combined, translate to turbo-charge rates of kidnapping - and these issues are not fully present today in Uganda, Ghana or Kenya. As such, there are no indications at this time that these countries are about to enter the kidnapping hotspot list in Africa for foreign tourists.

That said, kidnapping for ransom can, and does, occur everywhere. This is not only the case in countries where kidnap for ransom does occur, but also in countries with all the elements of a fertile ground for the crime to exist yet the crime does not.

The risks of kidnap for ransom can be mitigated against. Training, careful planning, insurance and adequate vetting and security will help keep you safe on your travels. Wherever you’re travelling to, it pays to plan ahead when it comes to your security.

Read more about the critical incidents and trends occurring around the world in our latest Critical Risk brief (June 2019) - including kidnap for ransom, extortion, illegal detention, blackmail, stalking, hijacking and cyber-attacks. June’s feature piece is an interview with Neil Stapley OBE, who formerly led the Hostage and Negotiation Unit at New Scotland Yard, in which he examines the practicalities of political evacuation.

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About the Author

Brittany Damora

Senior Associate, Advisory

​Brittany has extensive experience in international crisis response and risk mitigation; advising wealth owners, international families and governments on a range of security threats, as well as leading incident response teams when a crisis hits.

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