Kayna - Floribert Kambale Safari didn't spend long in
the hands of his kidnappers, but he still feels he's a captive to the debt owed
to those who paid his ransom.
Kidnapping for cash is a growing threat in the part
of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where Safari, a 54-year-old subsistence
People from all walks of life, including civil
servants, priests and imams, have fallen victim to the crime wave in a south-eastern
region of North Kivu province.
The state has a limited presence in this part of
the country, where dozens of armed groups have been active for years and
humanitarian conditions are among the worst in the world.
Insecurity runs so high that aid agencies regularly
suspend their operations.
With little to fear from the police, the kidnapping
gangs are able to operate with impunity.
Sitting outside his small tin-roofed home in the
under-developed area of Kayna, in North Kivu's Lubero territory, Safari
recounted how one night early in May, three hooded men snatched him from a shed
in his field.
The kidnappers at first asked for the equivalent of
$1 500 (R21 400) as a ransom but
ended up accepting the $500 (R7 100) that Safari's family managed to
In the provincial capital Goma, North Kivu Governor
Julien Paluku seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the situation.
"We're witnessing a new plague... this is a
new business," he told AFP. "We're currently studying how to end to
In Kayna, as in most of the vast central African
country, there is no running water, no electricity and practically no tarred
roads. The few masonry buildings are in bad shape and appear to date from
Belgian colonial times, before 1960.
Since he was freed on May 13, Safari has not dared
return to his banana plantation for fear of being abducted again by the same
Earning just 5 000 francs (R71) a month from
selling a banana-based alcohol and with no savings, Safari is despondent.
"I don't know what I'm going to do to pay
people back," Safari says. "Here we are suffering. If I had the
means, I'd go to live elsewhere."
A somewhat luckier kidnap victim is businessman
Isaac Kavusa Vukole, 39.
In September, armed men wearing balaclavas abducted
him from his Kayna home and led him off into a forest.
For two days, they pressured Kavusa's family by threatening to kill him.
They whipped him as he pleaded with his loved ones to raise $15 000 (R214 000).
When the family eventually managed to collect $4 500
(R64 000), his kidnappers agreed to let him go.
Much wealthier than Safari, Kavusa said that within a month, he was able to return the $3 000 (R43 000)
he borrowed to help pay his ransom. But he had to quickly sell off
three-quarters of his merchandise.
"I go undercover" when travelling, said Kavusa, who is regularly on the road to make
sure all is well in the shops he owns.
"In the evening, I do all I can to not be visible."
Bandits have long targeted a stretch of North
Kivu's main north-south highway between Kanyabayonga and Kiwanja.
In recent months, at the behest of governor Paluku,
vehicles have been travelling in convoys escorted by soldiers. Departures take
place twice a day in both directions.
Though they welcomed the military protection,
several travellers described it as a stopgap measure.
For Jeannot Kisiba,
an accountant in his 30s, the authorities would do better to "put an end
to the problem of insecurity" that has ravaged the province for more than