Report: Targeted Killings Define African Politics and Crime

Assassinations have long been part of criminal and often even political economies in east and the south of Africa, but according to a new report by a Swiss-based independent civil-society organization, they are decreasing now after a long period of rising rates in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa.

Targeted KillingsAssassinations have long been part of criminal and often even political economies in east and the south of Africa. (Photo: Brett Hondow, Pixabay, License)The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) presented data showing that assassinations rates were rising from 2000-2017, then decreased slightly with a starker drop over 2020 due to the lockdowns and social distancing measures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, killings remain prominent.

“In all three countries, politically motivated hits are evident and make up a significant portion of the database. They generally relate to abuses of power and the elimination of competition,” the report said. “Organized crime hits are also present in all three countries, and this category generally relates to disputes in the illicit economy and the silencing of whistleblowers, witnesses and activists.”

So prevalent is the trend, that assination attempts do not always even have to be made to silence opponents. Often all that is necessary is for a target to see their name on leaked “hit list.”

According to the report, such lists “are fairly common, particularly in South Africa, and are powerful tools in creating crippling fear.” Targets know that if they do not cease their activities, their name will be removed from the list in one way or another.

“The fear created by hit lists effectively silences activists, witnesses, journalists, politicians and businessmen,” said the report.

Targeted killing doesn’t just have an effect on those who deal with the criminal world, it has an erosive effect on democratic institutions as a whole in societies where it is prevalent.

“Political killings affect and delegitimize political processes, which ultimately undermine a democratic society as political positions are assigned through the violent removal of political rivals,” the report explained.

Transparency may be reduced due to fear mongering directed at municipal officials during the tender processes for contracts and targeted hits pose a threat to the country’s judicial system by fostering a culture of fear and silencing, it said. Attempted or successful assassinations of attorneys, magistrates, prosecutors, judges and witnesses are likely to result in lack of or inaccurate testimonies.

Even in the economic realm, in a world where murder is a not unheard of business practice, the idea of fair competition has already been thrown out the window, GI-TOC found particularly in Kenyan land disputes and South Africa’s taxi Industry.

Taxi related murders made up a majority of those targeted killings recorded in South Africa between 2015 and 2020, more than those connected to politics, organized crime and personal vendetta’s combined.

Political hits were the second most prevalent type of targeted killing that occurred over that same period, most in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

In contrast to South Africa, in Kenya which has a far lower rate of violence, most of the killings were political. However, organized crime is in a close second and killings related to disputes over farmland are not uncommon. Since 2015, some 16 directors of the Kihiu Mwiri Farmers Company Limited have died under suspicious circumstances.

In Mozambique however, the data shows that targeted killing remains overwhelmingly political, making up around 88% of hits in the country, while organized crime accounts for just 12%.

To address the scourge, GI-TOC called for greater monitoring, support for local investigations as well as gun control. A greater response to wider criminality in the regions where gunmen are hired and targeted killing is prevalent would also help, the organization said.