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Mozambique: Kidnappings

Welcome to our latest thematic report. In this edition we’re taking a close look at what’s happening in Mozambique and offering some insight into what’s behind the sharp rise in kidnapping.

It is difficult to establish precisely how many people have been kidnapped in Mozambique since late 2011. Authorities in Maputo say that at least fourteen people, mostly of Asian origin, were kidnapped between 2011 and 2012 and that data for 2013 is unreliable.

Analysts say that over the past two years there have been at least forty kidnappings and that victims include businesspeople, children and foreigners.

As the most recent kidnappings attest, the situation is worsening. On Tuesday 5 November, the wife of the operational director in Mozambique of the British charity Save the Children was kidnapped in Maputo while in Matola, a Portuguese woman was kidnapped inside the company offices where she works as the financial director.

If some of the earlier kidnappings were opportunistic, the latest appear to be quite the opposite. During investigations it has emerged that in some cases relatively sophisticated surveillance techniques have been used to gather intelligence useful to planning the kidnapping operations. For example, the wife of Save the Children director was taken hostage by armed gunmen at her home when she was alone.

South Africa has been at pains to reassure its citizens that Mozambique is safe for travel, or at least the central and southern areas are according to South Africa’s High Commissioner to Mozambique Charles Nqakula.

Mozambicans have been at pains to let the government in Maputo know their feelings, instability and a series of ransom kidnappings have drawn strong reactions and thousands have marched in demonstrations across the country.

To try and understand what is happening in Mozambique, KR Magazine asked Southern Africa expert Jasmine Opperman, a Member of the Panel of Experts at the Terrorism, Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), to briefly analyze the situation for us. 


If you are wealthy and living in, or visiting Maputo, Beira or Nampula, the chances of you or your family being kidnapped for ransom is high.

The modus operandi of the kidnappers is almost the same: kidnappings of businessmen or immediate families with noticeable signs of prosperity. The family is called hours later following the kidnapping demanding a ransom. In all reported cases, the kidnappers warn the victim’s family not to contact the police. The bad news is that in all reported cases of victims being released, ransoms were paid.

Since January 2013 at least 24 kidnappings have been reported in Mozambique, mainly in Maputo, with approximately five abductions per month.  Aspects that contribute to kidnappings are generally related to high unemployment rates, little investment in employment-generating industries, and low incomes associated with work in the informal sector. The inequality in the country is typified by the majority of Mozambicans reportedly scraping by on an average $400 a year despite annual economic growth of around 7% in the last five years. This is aggravated by a police force not sufficiently resourced and trained in countering kidnappings.  Allegations of police force members collaboration with organised crime syndicates also results in under-reporting and mistrust.

Kidnapping during 2013 reflects an expansion in terms of targets as well as risk areas.

Initially organised crime syndicates targeted wealthy businessmen from Indian origin. People from middle-class backgrounds are now also vulnerable to kidnappings.  Furthermore kidnappings are no longer limited to residents of Indian origin. An example is that of a Portuguese businessman who was seized from his office Maputo during July 2013. Children of targeted families are increasingly the targets of kidnappers. The last three reported cases of kidnappings involved the abduction of children related to targeted families.  These cases occurred during October 2013 in Maputo.  All three cases occurred during the daytime, in public places coupled with the lack of investigation successes.

Though most kidnappings take place in Maputo, the port city of Beira in central Mozambique and Nampula in the north are becoming more prone to kidnappings. There have also been violent clashes between government forces and Renamo in Manica and Nampula provinces. Subsequent reports indicated an upsurge in Renamo banditry, with general uncertainties on the future stability of Mozambique. Further attacks, inclusive of kidnappings, cannot be ruled out in the Sofala Province as the situation remains tense. 

To add to the kidnapping concern the following points are noteworthy:

First, the organised nature thereof as evident in selective targeting of successful businessmen coupled with the intent to extract large amounts of money by means of blackmailing and threatening the lives of victims and their relatives.  These syndicates are also linked to drug and weapon smuggling activities.  During September 2012, Mozambique police arrested four men accused of running a kidnapping ring which was behind more than 20 abductions in the capital Maputo during 2012. The alleged ring-leader, Bakhir Ayoob, is the son-in-law of Mohamed Bachir Suleman, a wealthy businessman. Washington has branded Suleman a drug kingpin and in 2010 banned U.S. companies from having any financial dealings with him.

Secondly, reported Mozambique police members’ collusion with organised criminal networks. During October 2013 six people, including a presidential guard member (elite police unit that protects President A Guebuza) and two policemen were sentenced to 16 years in prison for their involvement in abductions.

Thirdly, the intent is maximum financial gains with no information directing towards utilisation of kidnapping for political reasons. There are indications that amounts of up to $2million has been paid to kidnappers.

Lastly, assailants often use forceful tactics, operate in semi-organized groups, and carry crude weapons to facilitate their activities, increasing the possibility of physical harm.  As is common in most developing countries, expatriates are frequent targets due to their perceived wealth.

 A high risk allocation for kidnapping is thus informed by the following aspects:

  • A general increase in crime in areas such as Maputo, Beira and Nampula;
  • Socio-economic inequality;
  • Increased settlement of wealthy foreigners in Maputo due to investments and economic expectations related to Mozambique’s vast coal and natural gas reserves;
  • The lack of an effective countering response from the police force coupled with continued allegations of police member collaboration;
  • Resurfaced tensions between Renamo and Frelimo present the risk of kidnappings in the northern areas, whereby Renamo fighters could start utilising kidnappings to secure financial income or collaborating with existing organised crime syndicates; and

No indications that there is improvement in the ability of the police to act quickly and decisively when kidnapping incidents are reported.

Jasmine Opperman

Member of the Panel of Experts

Terrorism, Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC)




** This article was first published as a thematic email for KR Magazine subscribers on 07 November 2013.