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Ghanaians worried by rising number of kidnappings

June 12, 2019

The release of two kidnapped Canadian women is welcome news in Ghana where people are becoming increasingly anxious at the number of people seized, both locals and foreigners. Almost 70 cases were recorded in 2018.

Ghana, Hauptquartier der Regionalpolizei Ashanti in Kumasi
Image: Getty Images/M. Mohammed-Nurudeen

The two young Canadian women who were seized at a golf course in the city of Kumasi have been freed from the hands of kidnappers. According to security service sources, the aim had probably been to hold them until a ransom was paid.

The two women worked for Youth Challenge International, a Canadian organization that sends young people to work on development projects in Africa, Asia and South America.

Ghana is considered to be one of the most secure countries in West Africa but the number of kidnappings has risen sharply in recent months, causing a wave of anxiety among foreigners in the country as well as among local residents.

Almost 70 kidnapping cases were recorded in 2018. In April this year, a 30-year-old Indian man was kidnapped in Kumasi by men who demanded a $500,000 (€442,000) ransom. An Estonian diplomat was seized in the capital Accra during his regular morning walk. Shortly afterwards he was freed by the Special Weapons and Ammunition Tactics (SWAT) Unit of the Accra Regional Police Command who stormed the house where he was being held.

The whereabouts of three Ghanaian girls kidnapped in the west of the country several months ago are still unknown.  

President promises action 

In an an attempt to allay people's fears, President Nana Akufo-Addo emphasized his government's determination to put an end to the kidnappers' activities. Describing kidnapping as a new phenomenon in Ghana, he said: "We need to do something about it to make sure this does not become a feature of our society. Decisions are being taken that will clearly manifest the determination I have to deal with this matter."

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo emerging from a car
President Akufo-Addo says he is determined to stamp out kidnappingImage: picture alliance/dpa/AP Photo/G. V. Wijngaert

Many members of the general public feel the time for taking action is long overdue. In connection with the cases recorded in 2018 only one person has been convicted and jailed, while another four are currently on trial. Several Ghanaian lawmakers are unhappy with the lack of progress so far. Opposition lawmaker Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwah says parliament must intervene to force security agencies to do more to end the phenomenon.

"We do not know if ransoms are being paid, and we do not know if Ghana is now becoming a hub for these kidnappers," he said.

Ghana 'still relatively safe'

Security expert Adam Bona says it is in the best interest of the country and its reputation for the issue to be resolved as quickly as possible. Otherwise,"It will impede our development.  People are coming in and out of the country. Businesses are coming in and out, and if you look at the issue of tourism, people are coming here for sightseeing, to spend their vacations here. Who will want to go to a country where the chances are that someone might kidnap you? No one will want to do that."

A sign proclaiming 'You're Welcome'
Ghana's tourism industry hopes visitors will not stay awayImage: picture alliance/dpa

The city of Kumasi, where several kidnappings occurred, is Ghana's second largest city and the former capital of the Ashanti kingdom. It is a popular destination for tourists.

Despite the rising figures, Bona maintains that Ghana is still a relatively safe country for foreigners. "We have had these issues of security lately but that notwithstanding Ghana is safer than most European countries today, " he told DW.

However, he urges visitors and local residents to remain vigilant and keep their eyes open.