Africa now the kidnap and ransom capital of the world

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Based on recent statistics released by specialist crisis prevention and response consultancy NYA International, Africa accounts for 36 per cent of kidnap and ransom incidents globally, putting it well ahead of the Americas, at 27 per cent and Asia, at 19 per cent.

With Africa growing quickly as an investment destination, Jon Gregory, head of kidnap and ransom at AIG, believes that corporates need to start mitigating this growing risk, particularly if they have employees active in risky countries.

“As part of their overall duty of care towards employees, companies need to have a plan in place to deal with this type of situation,” he says. “This is not the type of thing one wants to deal with on the fly. What one does in the first 24 hours is vital, so access to experienced crisis professionals is highly recommended. Ransom negotiations themselves are extremely complex and, of course, the money has to come from somewhere.”

“We see this type of crime emerging in countries where there is both a large income discrepancy combined with an ineffective or corrupt police force,” says Gregory. Nigeria alone accounted for 26 per cent of all global incidents in the first half of 2013. The country consistently falls within the top 10 countries for kidnapping in the world, with over 1 000 cases reported each year, according to a report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council.  NYA International suggests that many more incidents go unreported. Countries including Somalia, Egypt, Kenya and Mali are also experiencing notable growth in kidnap and ransom occurrences.

Gregory believes that companies need to see kidnap and ransom as part of their overall risk management strategy and make provision not only for help to resolve such an issue and pay any ransom, but also to cover business interruption caused by the absence of a key employee and loss of focus. Another consideration is the possibility of civil suits by kidnapped executives or their families if they believe the company did not provide an adequate response.

He believes that only around two per cent of all kidnap and ransom incidents are covered by insurance. Consequently, the vast majority represent a loss for individuals or companies, and require that life-or-death negotiations, potentially over extended periods of time, are conducted without professional help.

“Kidnap and ransom policies are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of insurance a company would take out, and companies operating in certain regions must acknowledge they are at risk from third parties,” Gregory notes. “Basic corporate governance means that this type of risk must be provided for, in all its ramifications. These include professional crisis response and negotiation, ransom payments, salary payments for the kidnapped person, business interruption and, of course, whatever post-trauma counselling and medical help is needed.”

AIG’s financial lines underwriter, Roxanne Moodley, says that awareness of the threat is the first step in reducing risk. “Keep a low profile in terms of your lifestyle and personal conduct,” she advises. “Make sure you have reasonable security in place at both home and work, and avoid slipping into predictable routines. We also advise people to be aware of what they communicate on social media about their lifestyle. You just can’t be too careful.”