With seven kidnap and ransom snatches already recorded in and around Maputo this month, authorities are scrambling to find answers and solutions to head off a wave of organised criminal activity that is scaring off potential investors and severely compromising the developmental status of Mozambique.
Coming at a time when former Cold War enemy Renamo has gone back to the bush, the spate of kidnappings has severely dented investor confidence, with mining giant Rio Tinto, among others, withdrawing personnel until their security can be guaranteed.
At the same time, Portuguese business – the traditional mainstay of the economy – has been largely in limbo, with several key investors and their families moving back home after six of their countrymen were kidnapped for ransoms last year.
Ironically, the new insecurities – after two decades of relative peace – come at what ought to be a boom time for what was once one of the world’s poorest countries.
Massive offshore gas finds in the north of the country, among other mineral discoveries, have positioned Mozambique on a sharp growth curve, with 8.5 percent real increase in GDP recorded last year, and a further 8 percent predicted for this year.
The World Bank, furthermore, calculates that by 2025 Mozambique could be transformed from a heavily indebted poor country into a middle-income economy.
All this, however, only if security can be guaranteed.
In at least three of the kidnapping and ransom incidents this year, the kidnappers have been directly linked to the Mozambican police.
In two of these, serving policemen were identified among the perpetrators by witnesses. In the third, witnesses testified that some of the kidnappers had been wearing police uniforms.
Only in a single case where information was available was there no immediate evidence of involvement on the part of Mozambique’s law enforcers.
The problem is not new. In September last year, six men were convicted of earlier kidnappings in Maputo and sentenced to 16-year prison terms.
Of the six, three were policemen.