KIDNAPPING The Causes … and Solutions [Archives:1998/19/Front Page]

May 11 1998

There is a disturbing trend in the number of cases of foreign kidnapping in Yemen. The problem has grown visibly over the last few years. Only one case was reported in 1991. The number of incidents remained very low until 1995, when the total number of cases was only five. Then in 1996, it jumped to 15. In 1997, there were 21 actual kidnappings and 6 more attempts. During the first four months of 1998, there are already 16 cases, and at the present rate, the country could witness up to 50 kidnappings in 1998.
Most Yemenis believe serious measures need to be taken to address this problem. All Yemenis strongly disapprove of kidnapping, but they differ in their views regarding its causes and how to address it.
One visible reason for this phenomenon is lack of credibility of the state institutions. Government offices do not function properly. They are quite inept. They neglect their duties. And above all, most state officials are highly corrupt.
Thus, unruly tribesmen, who have been trying hard to get the attention of officials without success, have decided that they need better bargaining tactics, – to get the attention of the government officials regarding their legitimate grievances. Snatching foreigners has done the trick, as the kidnappers and their grievances are getting more attention than they had ever dreamed of.
Most of the kidnappers are from 3 regions – Serwah/Bani Jabr in Khowlan, Bani Dhabyan in Mareb, and Al-Hada’ in Dhamar. There are kidnappers from other regions also, but not to the same extent.
Most hostages come out from their captivity rather sympathetic to the people who ‘host’ them. I know a couple of cases in which there is continued correspondence and gift exchanging between the former captors and captives.
Increasingly, former hostages have started to champion the case of the kidnappers.
That is because the areas in which they had been held are badly underdeveloped. These regions have not received their fair share of national development projects. Government circles are oblivious to the needs of the people, which fuels the kidnapping problem.
Of course, there are some kidnappers who have transformed this matter into a business. These are a minority, and they simply followed the crooked path of government officials.
The other day, a senior ministry of interior officer described the kidnappers as criminals, thieves and highway robbers. That some of them may be, but how much different was he?
The government is now looking for solutions to this problem. Unfortunately, most of the ideas that are presented, including the hearings in the House of Deputies and the Consultative Council are not practical. The suggestions presented are niether workable nor responsible.
One suggestion calls for attacks by long range artillery or air bombing against the tribes which have engaged in hostage taking. This is dangerous and unrealistic. Besides, it could lead to a serious escalation in violence. Finally, it will victimize innocent people.
Another suggestion calls for to filing law-suits in courts against the kidnappers. The Ministry of Interior has identified about 150 persons who have been involved in kidnapping. The idea is to have court sentences against these individuals that brand them as outlaws. But what good will such a step do if the kidnappers can then freely roam the streets of Sanaa – as they now do – without any real possibility of enforcing the sentences? Such a development will simply erode more the prestige and credibility of the state.
Neither of the previous suggestions offers a good solution to this problem.
I have been involved, first hand, in the negotiations that followed many cases of kidnapping. From the early cases to the most recent ones, the underlying causes and demands are quite similar. That is why, I believe that the solution to this problem lies in the ability of Sanaa to shape up. This would involve two decisions:
1) In order for the state to attain a higher moral ground in combatting kidnapping, the government must rid itself of the thieves called officials. Actually, much of the money that the officials pocket could have gone to serious development projects.
Kidnapping is seen as a way to forcefully achieve the re-distribution of resources. The tribesmen who reside in remote areas, resort to illegal means (kidnapping) to force the officials in Sanaa to give them a piece of the pie. They want the thieves of Sanaa, who call themselves government officials, to share the bounty with them. The two sets of thieves are quite similar although the ones in Sanaa could be wearing suits and ties.
2) The president of the republic should invite tribal elders from all over the country and discuss with them regarding their needs for development projects. Government bureaucrats have long lost touch with the actual needs of the people. The President must then authorize the immediate implementation of development projects in the more backward parts of the country – including but not limited to – the regions of the kidnappers.
Let me stress that no one condones kidnapping. It is a crime and it should be stopped. But to stop it, Yemenis should understand its causes and should employ peaceful instruments in addressing it.
Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf
Chief Editor – Yemen Times