Maputo — Non-moslem shopkeepers, particularly the Mozambican branches of South African supermarket chains such as Shoprite and Pick'n'Pay, must be rubbing their hands with glee following the decision on Friday night by a group of Maputo moslem traders to close their establishments as from Monday, in protest against the alleged police incapacity to stop the wave of kidnappings of business people or members of their families.
This was one of the decisions taken at a crowded meeting, claiming to represent the "moslem, hindu and ismaeli communities", but clearly dominated by moslems. It was the the second such meeting in the space of a few hours.
One ugly characteristic of the meeting was gender segregation.
All the women sat in a separate part of the hall, separated by a partition from the men.
The meeting's conclusions were announced by Ismael Mussa, a parliamentary deputy from the opposition Moambique Democratic Movement (MDM).
Mussa, however, is out of favour with his parliamentary group, which has banned him from speaking in parliamentary debates.
The leader of the MDM parliamentary group, Lutero Sumango, told AIM that neither the traders' strike, nor any of the other decisions announced by Mussa, had been discussed inside the MDM.
Mussa said the traders had decided to keep their shops open on Saturday, to allow Mozambican to stock up on supplies before the strike begins. But when this AIM reporter visited a couple of moslem-owned central Maputo shops on Saturday, there were no long queues, and no signs of any panic buying.
Mussa also announced that there would be three days of peaceful demonstrations "throughout the country" in protest at the kidnappings and the police failure to catch those responsible. Dates for the demonstrations would be announced only after the formalities of notifying the authorities, in line with the law on demonstrations, have been complied with.
Mussa claimed that "all moslems" would take part in the protest, although neither he, nor a hastily convened Maputo meeting, has any authority to speak on behalf of all the four million of so Mozambican moslems.
The protesters were willing to hold a dialogue with the authorities, Mussa said, but only "at the highest level" (i.e. with President Armando Guebuza).
At the meeting on Friday morning it was also suggested that there should be a march on the Interior Ministry, that moslem-owned businesses might stop paying taxes, and that moslems might vote against the ruling Frelimo Party in the forthcoming municipal and general elections.
Mussa told reporters that the government "is still not taking concrete and plausible measures seeking to end these cases and to punish in exemplary fashion the people involved". He claimed the government was not fulfilling its part of the "social contract" while those who suffer from the kidnappings "pay their taxes and have constitutonally established rights".
Interior Minister Alberto Mondlane, interviewed by publicly owned Mozambican Television (TVM), said that, rather than call for demonstrations and accuse the government and the police of doing nothing, "we must all unite, fight against crime and support the efforts of the authorities to arrest those implicated and hold them responsible".
He said that some of the relatives of those kidnapped have been cooperating with the police - but when the wave of kidnappings started, senior police officers did not disguise their frustration at the lack of collaboration from some of the families.
"We want more collaboration", Mondlane added. "Don't condemn the police or the government for their work, and don't march on the Interior Ministry. People have to be organised, they have to me more vigilant, and denounce cases of crime".
He insisted that the government is taking the kidnappings seriously, and is using all the means in its power to end these crimes.
"Right now, the police are investigating", said Mondlane.
"There are people who took part in previous kidnappings who are being investigated. These cases are following the legal procedures and certainly those implicated will appear in court".
Mondlane was referring to the 11 members of the kidnap gang arrested in July, several of whom have confessed to their part in the abductions. One of those named in the media as ordering the kidnaps is Danish Abdul Satar, a member of the notorious Abdul Satar crime family, which was responsible for the theft of the equivalent of 14 million dollars from what was then the country's largest bank, the BCM (Commercial Bank of Mozambique) in 1996, and for the subsequent assassination of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso in 2000.
The lastest kidnapping, which was the spark for the Friday meetings, was on Thursday night. According to eye-witnesses cited by the independent television station, STV, at about 18.00 four armed men snatched 18 year old Farouk Ayoob from a street in central Maputo, and sped off into the night.
Farouk Ayoob is the nephew of Momed Khalid Ayoob, a prominent Maputo business figure who was shot dead outside a mosque in April.
The Ayoob family is very wealthy, owning hotels in Maputo, a foreign exchange bureau, and a variety of shops. They have also been involved in a series of scandals. One of the Ayoob companies, Niza Lda (formerly known as Modas Niza), achieved notoriety in 2010 when the Mozambican Tax Authority ordered the public sale of its goods to pay off a debt of 276 million meticais (about 7.9 million US dollars) to the mobile phone company M-Cel.
Niza had been an authorised vendor of M-Cel pre-paid phone cards. It sold the cards - but its cheques to M-Cel bounced, and so the Tax Authority seized imported electrical appliances which would be sold off to repay the M-Cel debt.
Momed Ayoob was arrested at Matsapha airport in Swaziland in December 2010 in possession of 2,666,300 US dollars in banknotes (about 2.6 million US dollars at the exchange rate of the time), which he had failed to declare. He had exported the money illegally from Mozambique and said he was taking it to Dubai.
Both Momed Ayoob and his brother Macsud have been accused of drug trafficking. A lengthy 2008 report in the weekly paper "Zambeze" alleged that Khalid Ayoob was arrested in Portugal in 1987 for possession of heroin, but managed to escape two years later, and make his way back to Mozambique via Spain. The paper could cite the case number of the proceedings against him in the Portuguese Public Prosecutor's Office.
The money seized in Swaziland may have proved Ayoob's downfall, since his associates presumably wanted it back, but the Swazi court ordered its confiscation.
Ayoob never made any attempt to explain why he was carrying such huge amounts of cash. Most businessmen put large sums of money into their banks. The only conceivable reason for stuffing suitcases full of banknotes is that the money was obtained illicitly. If Ayoob's money came from a legitimate business then it could be transferred to Dubai through normal banking channels.
In March 2002, Macsud Ayoob was arrested at Maputo airport carrying a suitcase full of over a million dollars in banknotes. Like his brother eight years later, he too was on his way to Dubai.