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 farmer, lives.
People from all walks of life, including civil servants, priests and imams, have fallen victim to the crime wave in a southeastern 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 (1,400 euros) as a ransom, but ended up accepting the $500 that Safari’s family managed to scrape together.
’A new plague’
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 said.
"We’re currently studying how to end to this."
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 kidnappers.
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