Oct 252009

Some peculiar assertions are starting to appear in the papers about the release of the two female aid workers in Sudan, Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki.  Musa Hilal, adviser to the minister for federal affairs,  and the man behind the notorious Janjaweed militias who have been terrorising Darfur, has claimed, according to the Irish Times, that a ransom of €150,000 was paid to the kidnappers.

Now,  this is a strange statement from Hilal.   President Omar al-Bashir is reported to have vetoed payment of a ransom and it seems extraordinary that Musa, who was recently appointed by Bashir to a senior adviser position in Khartoum, would publicly contradict him.

The statement exposes the dilemma that all States  face when dealing with abductions of their citizens: paying a ransom will secure the release of the hostages, but will also encourage more kidnapping.  Therefore, if money is handed over, it must be in secret and deniable.

The Irish, Ugandan and Sudanese governments deny that a ransom was handed over.  Interestingly, the statement from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs while saying that no ransom was paid, doesn’t explicitly rule out money having been paid in some other way, whether to meet the “expenses” of the kidnappers or in the form of a commitment to carry out infrastructural works in the region to the benefit of tribal leaders.

It would be interesting to know if games are being played, using aid workers as pawns.   On the face of things, it would be very foolish of Musa Hilal to anger  Bashir, who’s currently trying to win over the United States with a charm offensive.

It’s unlikely that either Musa or Bashir had anything to do with the abductions.  It seems certain that the people guarding the two women spent the entire time in fear of their lives, but it also seems that the kidnapping was an opportunist action, probably arising from the new political climate in Sudan.  These are desperately poor people, who gained nothing from the war, which is now over, and took a chance to earn some money.

Some of those involved in the kidnapping will probably benefit very little, if indeed any cash has changed hands.  As part of a tribal structure, they would probably have been subject to strict control by the gang leaders or ‘masterminds’ who in all likelihood, would pocket most of the  profits, if there were any.

In a society like Darfur, the other intangible factor has to be the matter of honour.  It would be vital for the hostages’ safety to ensure that there was no loss of face.  Everyone has to look like a winner in the endgame, and it is conceivable that the statement about a ransom was designed to make the tribal elders look strong.

In a country where the average GDP per capita is about €1,000, a figure like €150,000 might seem a staggering amount, but this has to be set against the wide disparities between different regions.  Say for argument’s sake that   20 or 30 people carried out the kidnapping, and assume the money was divided out equally.  Each kidnapper might get €5,000.  This is huge money for a Darfur tribesman, incomprehensible in its magnitude, but it wouldn’t be a life-changing sum to a citizen of Khartoum, or to a tribal leader for that matter.

It’s highly unlikely that Uganda contributed anything, so the question has to be asked: given Bashir’s explicit veto on paying a ransom, did the Irish government hand over cash, either directly or through an intermediary, or were some other commitments given in order to secure the release of the two women?

If so, then the second part of the dilemma comes into play, where kidnapping becomes a paying proposition for gang leaders, and this might have something to do with the abduction of an ICRC staff member, Gauthier Lefevre, in West Darfur on the 22nd October, just a few days after the release of the two women.  If the Irish government, and their proxy, the GOAL charity, conceded to the kidnappers, have they facilitated a chain of fresh kidnappings?

  21 Responses to “Sudan Kidnappings — Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki. Was Money Paid?”

Comments (21)

    I’m sorry but in those 800 or so words are you saying that the Irish Government should not hand over a few yoyos to prevent the ’38 slug sitting in the brain pan of some goodish looking Dublin chick .
    If, as seems to be, that they have managed to cleave a Christian line from Kenya. Mostly, it has to be said, without that much help. Call it organic. But then if you think about it, Ethiopia, is not the only mountainous society in the area. What is the betting that the aesthetic resonances of the Books of Kells fits in nicely.
    Or to put it another way, the little mare fit in there like a glove.


    Where did you see me saying what the government should have done? I’m asking whether payment of a ransom might have caused further kidnappings. It’s a question, not a statement.

    I have no idea what the rest of your comment means.


    Look at South America where kidnapping is a business. They would kidnap anyway to try it on and apart from ransom there doesn’t seem to be much choice except rely on the good graces of angry armed nutjobs. Maybe aid workers and contractors should sign a waiver before they go to places like this and anyway I think the idealistic aid workers have no business being there as they are encouraging trouble. Lets walk around a war zone in which they hate the west and hope they love the Irish. In Southern California Hispanics and Blacks automatically see white people as having money and even as you stand for a bus because you can’t afford a car several black thugs will surround a white woman and insist she gives them any spare change, same tactics but on a different level. Bullies don’t need encouragement .

    Old Knudsen isn’t for genocide but it might be the best thing for Africa and the middle east.


    Why stop there? Let’s wipe out everyone who isn’t us.


    I know the Brits have always said “we will never pay ransom” . I often wonder if it was one of their own sons or daughters what would they do? Truth is everyone pays read the story that the Italians were paying the Taliban not to attack them. When the French too over they knew nothing about it and 9 of their troops were killed.
    Should they have paid for Sharon release I don’t know but of course it now puts everyone at risk. She back with her family now and thats a good thing and I don’t want to hear her say I want to go back.
    Should she have been in that cesspool in the first place…NO.


    your education; My paypal account.


    Too cryptic for me.


    Why didn’t they just ask Bill Clinton to ride off into the desert and bring her back? He’d do it for free.


    Christ Vincent, you lost me, twice…


    With the collapse of the Roman empire Ireland was cut off from the rest of Christianity. So was Ethiopia with the Islamic drift westwards, Prester John and all that. The area of Dafur is a mountainous island which had very little contact with Khartoum or much of anything, but there was a gradual drift of Christianity into that area from the south of Sudan. An organic drift, not one driven by Rome or any of the Protestant churches. Now, in that area we have the divisions of race and religion, and if anyone could understand the situation an Irish person could. For fuck sake, they could be cousins with all the boxes they tick off. Shit, if she was from Munster she could have had choirs of them belting out the fields of Athenry.


    It’s so easy to offer comment cynical and detatched when there is no personal investment .
    My sister choose to go to Africa last year on a 3 year, no break commitment, She is no ” idealistic aid worker ” who “hopes they love the Irish ” She went because she has particular skills and an unstoppable humanitarian heart .
    The rest of us, her family tried to dissuade her this time as she was getting older and where she was going was even more dangerous than other places she had been, But armed with her first ipod and a decent mobile phone and her first credit card off she went.
    She is the only western person in her area, The electricity is occasional, When i e-mail her, it can be a couple of months before she can reply,
    Is it worrying for us to consider the paying of ransoms for victims of kidnap, Yes very.
    Would we pay a ransom to get her back, most definitly, but she would be livid if we did because she would see it as placing a monetary value on the head of every other person like herself.
    I know she is struggling out there like never before but nothing will break her resolve and commitment, We have to respect her choices, and we are not alone in that, But it’s damn easy Old Knudsen and Vincent to read your armchair comments regarding ” No businness ” or ” The little mare ”
    You do what you do to save your loved one’s, thats instinct, it falls far from right/wrong good/bad, it’s downright scary shit having your back to the wall regarding the life of a loved one.


    It could also be argued that paying a ransom to kidnappers has increased your sister’s danger of being abducted.


    Absolutly no doubt Bock, And that would be her own thoughts, I sincerly hope we are never faced with such a scenario because if a ransom was paid there is no doubt it would not be what she would want.
    My comment was really that we would struggle enormously to abide by what we would know would be her own wishes, As her own personal safety, even her life would be secondary, for her to the bigger picture.

    I just can’t, actually i won’t even try to envisage though what the refusal to pay would be like for us, But as you say, would that be selfish, To save her and expose others ? Can’t go there, Of course you are right and she would be in total agreement, Could we live with it though ?
    Not being flippant, We might be more scared of her when she got home because she would tell us we defeated her entire purpose, And thats for sure.


    Every corporation working in Africa has kidnap insurance, the same with South and Central America, Russia and that area also. So all in all picking up some white person in the street the average kidnapper could be forgiven his expectation.


    True, but this isn’t about the kidnappers. Their threat exists, and the question is how to deal with it.


    Kidnapping is big business, its no longer about political agendas, it’s about money, end of.

    What vincent says is true, Insurance from big Int Corporations makes it even more attractive, I can’t see that anything can be done about it, largely because the law enforcers in most countries where kidnapping of westerners is rife and viewed as a great source of income, are systemically corrupt.
    In our our personal case this isn’t a huge issue because my sister is not affiliated to any big corporation or organisation, something of a lone runner and she has a very developed heightened sense of awareness, plus years and years of experience living in hostile environments.

    In fact, in all those years she has never once related an actual story of trauma to any of us, Once many years back, she was caught in a country at the time of overthrow of a Dictator, she was in hospital when the uprising began and getting out became somewhat tricky, it was the most worrying time, when she returned here The media got wind of it and no way would she talk to them

    , The only things she has ever told us are about little incidents like when a child shared some rare piece of chocolate with her or other similar tid bits,
    She won’t speak of injustices or horrors because she claims they are not hers to re visit and it would only serve to detract her from the task in hand.
    Maybe her under the radar approach has helped keep her safe for so long, but no i see no solution in the short term.

    But stepping away, best as i can, given all that i see, paying the ransom contains too great a risk that it will re enforce the determination of the kidnappers, after all it’s relatively easy money for people with no other means of making any money.


    Simple, pay the Insurance. It is all very well for the Charities and some Governments to take the high moral position, but until the no one pays a ransom all they are doing is putting people in danger.
    In this situation the Government should have stumped up, quietly. So that we are none the wiser.


    The government are staying quiet about it. It was Hilal who said a ransom as paid.


    Paying the ransom is no dishonourable thing to do; you got the people back alive, better than two corpses buried in a shallow grave far from home.
    If people are desperate enough, as the fuckers who took those two girls surely were, they will try anything even when they know there is very little chance of success. It’s insane desperation. So I don’t think it will make much difference one way or the other…for example Somali pirates are still just as bad as they were despite an increased military prescence in that sea; they’re still willing to take their chances even though relatively few have made big money from hostages.

    Personally it looks to me like the whole ransom issue is being used as a political piece, to make someone somewhere look weak or impotent. Whether or not money was actually handed over, I would not be in the least surprised that somebody high up knew where these girls were all along. Maybe I’m being overly cynical. At least the girsl made it out alive.


    Are you suggesting this post has a political agenda?


    No – I was referring to the issue being uses as a political piece by the powers that be in Darfur, not by yourself.

    Hilal must have something to gain from divulging this information, whether it is true or not. Otherwise he would just not mention it. It seems to me like an attempt to undermine his masters.That’s all.

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