Dec 17 2009

Kidnap me, I’m in Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 1:57 PM

Having spent the past week in an African country, I suppose I should feel grateful I avoided being kidnapped. A report in the Ecoomist finds a rise of kidnapping in Nigeria, with targets increasingly being other Nigerians, not foreigners. The cause of kidnapping is the desperation of poor, but enterprising people on a daily hunt for cash – and the presence, close by, of wealthy people whose very existence offers rich opportunities for those willing to snatch them. As if to underscore the reality of this new threat, The New York Times magazine published a profile this month with a repentant, if self-professed, kidnapper in Port Harcourt, my wife’s benighted hometown. 

Setting aside the media hype over the latest “heart of darkness” trend, there is a disturbing trend to explore here: The economic boom in Africa is creating a new strata: not a thin layer of super-rich but a wider band of the prosperous and well-off. The swelling ranks of this African upper-class is igniting a scramble by the have-nots for ways of getting even. In Kenya, where I spent the past week, roberry and organized extortion remain the preferred means of “narrowing” the gap between rich and poor. Property crime in Kenya is thus, for the rich, a new form of taxation, and for the poor, a rough but effective way of redistributing wealth. In Nigeria, kidnapping is the new frontier in the redistribution wars. How long with it take before this latest Nigerian improvisation will turn up elsewhere in Africa?

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