I am often asked what the hostage briefing is about. Mostly the question is meant to be hostile because the Ostriches amongst us would prefer to hide the fact that foreigners are taken hostage and held for ransom in Africa. According to FBI statistics no less than 500 million USD was paid out in 2012. And that is what we know off.
It is easy to shoot the messenger, me in this case. It is easy to say my type of services will "scare away investments" as if the investor is that stupid not to know about such risks. Why else do you think they contact me? It is not out of ignorance on what is taking place. I have yet to meet as single client who says my briefing will keep him away. No, they deal with worst case scenarios as do I. All are grateful that they now understand the risks and are able to deal with it in a professional manner.
So the question remains. Why? It comes down to legal risk. What most don't get is that there is a legal problem with hostages - it has two distinctive forms. First the legal risk against the lad held capture. He needs to understand what is happening, what to do, how to survive, how to communicate with the outside world and what to do when a rescue attempt is launched. Not having such knowledge may cost him his life. The company faces a serious legal threat as well. When you employ someone, the law expects you to take care of that fellow. Take for instance a builder on site - he has to wear a protective helmet and if not, and a stone falls on his head, guess what nice civil claim he has against his employer besides the medical and other problems. There is no difference with the above and sending a man into Africa, knowing there is a risk (albeit small) of being kidnapped and you as a company, did nothing to prepare him. Hear my words; it is a matter of time before they are sued by the family or the lad himself if he survives. They have every legal right to do so.
This is like seeing train smash coming and hiding away from it. The results will still be a train smash. If your people are working in Africa they run the risk of being taken hostage. Where there is risk, all steps must be taken to reduce that risk to something manageable. It cannot be nullified completely but if you know what to expect and what to do and have an action plan ready you are in so much better position than the Ostrich who don't have it. This is called forward thinking or risk management. It is not a new concept at all - many journalists and aid workers deploying to the Middle-East undergo such training. But as you know, Africa is not the Middle-East - our briefing is focussed on Africa because that is a place I know very well. In that sense it is totally unique.
Now you would think it is logical that multinationals and others have such plans ready...you cannot be more wrong. My research showed 98% have no such plans and subsequently they have no idea what to do. I saw this first hand in Nigeria when a man got taken hostage. The efforts from everyone involved were rather pathetic and no-one knew what to do. There was no plan and I believe he survived more by luck that anything else but that is my opinion only.
My hostage briefing is not cheap because I have specialist knowledge and am not interested in the wrong clients. There are certain companies I will not help no matter what the money involved - they burned their bridges with me and I think we spoke before or their "rigorous measures" they say they have in place. Measures which unfortunately do not include hostage survival because they will not be taken hostage. I remember one Dr Goebbels using the same argument during the Second World War - "We will not lose because we cannot lose." It is rather silly and we know how that turned out. However, this is not about money for me but service and saving souls. This is proven by the fact that JKLS Africa helps missionaries free of charge by conducting the briefings with them on demand. I am not driven by money but like all professional men I expect to be paid if you can afford it.
Talking of fees, if you look at the kind of man (and I mean women too) sent to Africa you will realize they are not Mickey Mouse people. They are professionals and relatively senior and deserve to be equipped to survive. The same with us at JKLS Africa, we are not a Mickey Mouse outfit but highly specialized in what is known (I coined the phrase in 1998) forensic law experts. No one else, as far as I know, is doing what we do. We look at things in a way which is so different from what a security company or a lawyer does that we cannot be classified as either. It is unique, practical and designed to achieve results. Let me explain the JKLS way of thinking in practical terms. Imagine the wire fence around your property. When built you would have a nice big warning sign on it showing it is dangerous and electrified. But in Africa, especially further north, the quality of that sign is so bad that within months it fades away. Now your sign has no meaning in law and you are at risk to be sued if something happens. That is forensic law in practice - we look at real risk and what the law says about it. Then we implement practical steps to reduce the identified risk to minimum. I am not sure if this can be taught at university, it comes with the School of Hard Knocks and no law professor will even admit "forensic law" exists. Most certainly it is not forensic investigations but at a much higher level. We never do forensic investigations at JKLS Africa.
I will explain in the weeks to come what else we do and importantly, what we won't even look at. Debt collecting is one of those things we are not interested in. We are not set-up to collect debt, we don't like it and will every time say no thanks. But, from a forensic law view we can help you. We can ensure you are set up in such a way that it won't kill your business. We can tell you what clauses you must have in your contracts (not the usual examples) and we know the scams to warn you about.
Do we rescue people like hostages? No, absolutely not and it is scam I explain in my book Tricks of Trade - Memories of a Rogue Lawyer. If I had a dollar for every "I was a Recce" fellow offering to sort out the hostage incident Hollywood style I would be retired on my own island by now. I say again, it is a scam.
Do we negotiate to release hostages? No, absolutely not but we know who are good at that type of thing and they are based in the UK. They are good because they speak decent Pommy English. Most Africans respect that from the colonial days. Are you by law even allowed to negotiate? Most governments say no but they lie, they do negotiate. Are you allowed to as a company or individual? Attend my briefing and you will know the legal minefield of that simple question.
Do we deliver money if a ransom is paid? No, we don't but we know who can do so and will not steal your money either. That is a major problem, the money are paid "wrongly." Of course it is a scam and in Nigeria even lawyers are involved with it. They take a "percentage" but you would not know that.
JKLS Africa is preventative on a hostage crisis. There are many things you can do before you are exposed to this. For instance the first thing the police will ask you is a recent picture of the hostage. Or for his medical file. And guess what? 98% of companies won't be able to give it exposing that man to even more risk. I have many answers, not all of them, but enough to reduce the risk substantially. Talk to me.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.