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ISS TODAY OP-ED

Spike in lucrative Chad kidnappings helping to fuel regional security crisis

Spike in lucrative Chad kidnappings helping to fuel regional security crisis
Collaborative efforts between Chad, Cameroon, and CAR are essential to combat kidnappings, increase security forces, and establish information networks and patrols in the crime-ridden border area. (Illustrative image: iStock)

The Chad-Cameroon-CAR border area is a powder keg of crime that needs swift action from all three governments. 

Kidnappers have terrorised Chad’s southern Mayo-Kebbi West and Logone Oriental provinces for over two decades. Between 2020 and 2023, the number of victims and overall amount paid in ransom by their families rose sharply, according to research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Local non-governmental organisations in the two provinces told the ISS that in 2022, 46 people were kidnapped, 12 assassinated, and 42,925,000 CFA was paid in ransom in Logone Oriental. In 2023, 41 people were abducted, eight were killed, two were missing and 52,405,000 CFA was handed over in Mayo-Kebbi.

Chad and its neighbours need to urgently address the problem to curb its spread and prevent collusion with other criminal and extremist forces at work at the Chad-Cameroon-Central African Republic (CAR) border areas. Mayo-Kebbi West and Logone Oriental, Chad’s two most affected provinces, are situated in this tri-border complex. State control is limited in this peripheral area, and criminals move easily across the porous borders.

Southern Chad, kidnapping

Southern Chad provinces most affected by kidnapping. (Graphic: Supplied by ISS Today)

The general security situation in this border area has deteriorated steadily due to decades of sporadic armed conflict in the Lake Chad Basin countries, and the emergence of Boko Haram in the early 2000s. Countries’ inability to curb the violence and maintain border security has given the problem a cross-border dimension.

Chad remains in the grip of various security threats, including the proliferation of firearms due to successive internal conflicts and the spillover from those in neighbouring Libya, Sudan and CAR. Criminal networks in Cameroon have also become stronger, ISS research shows, with a rise in kidnappings and the circulation of weapons in the northern parts of the country bordering Chad and CAR.

Conflict zone

The CAR has been in conflict since 2003, increasing arms flows and pushing combatants to peripheral areas as the army gained strength from the support of its Russian partners. The conflict has also led to poverty for some Fulani herders, who have turned to banditry as a result.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Wagner mercenaries have entirely captured Central African Republic, The Sentry report finds

In Chad, the kidnappers originate mainly from the cross-border Fulani, Arab and Hausa communities. They collaborate with local accomplices such as traditional authorities and youth, who inform them about whom to kidnap, sources told ISS Today. Anyone considered wealthy in the village or district can be targeted, including traders, herders, farmers, government officials and non-governmental organisation staff. Their children and spouses may also be abducted.

Although most kidnappings are motivated by financial gain, victims have in some cases been murdered despite ransoms being paid. Anyone regarded as a threat to the kidnapping business is in danger. Journalists, members of associations and in particular, members of community vigilance committees, are targeted because they raise awareness about the kidnapping risk.

After gathering information about their targets, abductors typically strike late at night, between 23:00 and 01:00. This trend changed in 2023 when pupils were kidnapped during the day from their school in Pala town centre in Mayo-Kebbi West. Victims from Chad are held in Cameroon, and those taken in Cameroon are kept in Chad, interviewees told ISS Today. Trafficking of all kinds also takes place in this border complex.

Insufficient security force numbers make preventing kidnapping difficult. Military operations that draw on reinforcements from other provinces have helped recover hostages and arrest kidnappers. However, this doesn’t happen regularly. Young people have been mobilised in Mayo-Kebbi West and Logone Oriental to watch over their communities, alert others when someone is kidnapped, and provide information to the security forces.

Crime epicentre 

The Chad-Cameroon-CAR border area is a powder keg of crime that needs swift action from all three governments. To bolster safety arrangements, countries must increase security force numbers and provide better equipment to handle the area’s rough terrain, such as off-road vehicles and motorbikes. This would enable the creation of information networks, surveillance posts and more pedestrian and motorised patrols.

The cross-border nature of kidnappings makes collaboration between the three countries vital. This should include setting up cooperation mechanisms, joint patrols and the permanent exchange of information between forces in these areas. Negotiating transboundary search and seizure rights is also essential. This has been done among Lake Chad Basin countries as part of the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram.

It is also crucial to work with the youth vigilance committees, whose extensive knowledge of these environments can be used to gather information and track down kidnappers. DM

Remadji Hoinathy, Senior Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Central Africa and Lake Chad Basin and Allioum Tondandi, Researcher, Centre for Research in Anthropology and Human Sciences, N’Djamena, Chad.

First published by ISS Today.

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