Estuaries, Northern Madagascar, International Space Station, 060211 image courtesy of NASA via Flickr
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Analysis: Tom Bacon at PGI – Police complicity suspected in surge of kidnappings in Madagascar




Tom Bacon

Head of Risk Analysis

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Madagascar: Police complicity suspected in surge of kidnappings

Madagascar has witnessed a notable increase in reports of kidnappings since mid-2014, including several abductions that have targeted foreign business executives. The kidnappers are frequently heavily armed and there are growing suspicions that rogue units within the police force are complicit in some of the abductions. As yet, the authorities have taken little action to address the issue, raising concerns the threat of kidnappings will continue to grow as foreign businesses establish a greater presence in the country.

Reports of kidnappings for ransom in Madagascar have increased since around July 2014, particularly in major cities, including Tamatave, Majunga and Antananarivo. There are no reliable statistics to determine exactly how severe the problem is and officials admit that most incidents go unreported, but several high-profile abductions in recent months support local media claims of the escalating kidnap threat to foreign nationals. The majority of the victims have been wealthy businessmen from the Indo-Pakistani community, who have a long-established presence in Madagascar, though in recent months the abductions have also targeted other nationalities, including French, Chinese and Mauritians.

The most prominent of these was the kidnapping of Goulam Razaali, a well-known Franco-Malagasy businessman who is also the honorary consul for South Korea. Razaali was seized from his home in Ivandry on the outskirts of Antananarivo on 30 January by three men armed with AK-47s. He was then held for six days before his captors released him for an undisclosed ransom. Razaali’s kidnapping came three days after a Chinese businessman narrowly escaped a kidnapping in Tamatave, in an attack involving heavily armed men in which his bodyguard was killed.

Estuaries, Northern Madagascar, International Space Station, 060211 image courtesy of NASA via Flickr

Image: Estuaries, Northern Madagascar, International Space Station, 060211 image courtesy of NASA via Flickr

The escalation in kidnappings has raised suspicion of the complicity of state security personnel, specifically members of the Groupe de Sécurité et d’Interventions Spéciales (GSIS) paramilitary unit. On 5 February, three members of the GSIS in civilian clothing were intercepted by police on the RN2 Highway in Moramanga with two businessmen who had been abducted in Toamasina earlier in the day after withdrawing money from a bank. They were found with tens of thousands of dollars in local currency and were taken into custody, though it is unclear whether charges were bought against them. Local media has reported the officers’ superiors may have been complicit in the abduction and the incident follows multiple other cases where the police have been implicated in corruption and organised crime. The integrity of Madagascar’s police force has long been undermined by corruption and it was ranked the country’s most corrupt public institution in Transparency International’s 2014 Global Corruption Barometer. Traditionally, police involvement in organised crime has focused on cattle rustling and the trafficking of arms and timber, but the latest arrests suggest security personnel may be diversifying their activities.

The response from the government has thus far been limited to condemnation of the attacks. Minister of Public Safety Blaise Randimbisoa has pledged to take a zero-tolerance stand on kidnapping and to investigate the alleged involvement of the police, echoing earlier statements made by the minister in July, but as yet little tangible progress has been made. Officials have admitted that the families of kidnap victims rarely call police due to their reputation for corruption, highlighting the lack of confidence in police. This is underpinned by a lack of training and resources afforded to police to support investigations into kidnappings and the recent reports of police complicity will further undermine public faith in their capacity. The weak official response has raised concerns that Madagascar could see a sharp escalation in kidnappings targeting foreigners in the coming year as foreign businesses look to establish a greater presence in the country following the end of the 2009-14 political crisis and the lifting of international sanctions. The government is in the process of opening up successive licensing rounds in uranium, coal and bauxite concessions that in the coming year will attract an influx of foreign companies whose staff could be exposed to kidnap risks.

The tree on the hill, Madagascar, courtesy of IamNotUnique on Flickr

Image: The tree on the hill, Madagascar, courtesy of IamNotUnique on Flickr

A wide-range of tactics is employed to carry out abductions. Several separate gangs are likely involved in the crime and most abductions and the alleged involvement of GSIS would suggest that some perpetrators may have paramilitary training. Victims have been abducted from multiple locations, including from residences, during travel to work and after withdrawing money from banks. In most cases, the attackers appear to have targeted a specific individual, rather than an opportunistic attack, suggesting surveillance was carried out beforehand. This highlights the importance of avoiding a regular, predictable routine such as the same routes to and from work and not divulging information on travel to unknown parties, unless essential. All staff should have emergency contact details and clear communication protocols should be established as part of crisis management plans. Although major urban areas of Antananarivo, Tamatave, Majunga and Toamasina have been the most common locations for abductions, carjacking and kidnapping on highways are also credible threats.

Local media claims that ransom demands typically average around USD 90,000. Payment of ransoms and an increase in cases of kidnapping could encourage kidnappers to increase ransom demands. Should this trend continue and a rising number of foreign nationals become exposed to abduction, companies may become increasingly compelled to purchase broader insurance cover for expatriate workers or use private security or executive travel services in country.