If you watch Hollywood or bother to read what politicians say about “counter terrorism policy” you will always see “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” or “we don’t pay ransoms!” It is so well known that everybody say so without thinking further about it.
They have wonderful reasons for the above ideas. First they feel that if you negotiate with a terrorist then you are at his level or his on yours as a legitimate government. Politicians, you can be sure, are egoistical people in the extreme. They have a terribly overinflated idea of their own importance and yet, it is the only job in the world where you are replaced by the system every few years (in theory at least). The bad part of this, elections, is that the fellow is now playing for survival all the time, he cannot afford to follow his good intentions (if he ever had them to begin with, I doubt it) and hence is subjected to party politics.
In South Africa the “party” is all important, very much like the communists dominated the Soviet Union. It is the same evil system, the party gets voted in and the party decides who gets the nice jobs. Efficiency and the ability to do a good job for the country plays no role as the lack of audits and utter failures in most provinces prove to us. But that is politics and I cannot think of a better system right now. Surely a monarchy is even worse where a parasite breeds another parasite and hence you have a prince to become king and breeds again and so it goes on until they are shot in a wood or beheaded for their own good. Nah, let us stay with our failures in life, them we know and at least have a chance to vote them out and into decency in the future. You may even say we can save them from themselves, they should be grateful.
A country, any country, likes to show the world how robust they are and in fact South Africa is robust on the kidnapping / terrorism scene. Yes, before you laugh cynically I must ask you as I do with my hostage survival briefing, who do you prefer rescuing you if in trouble and skyjacked? The Nigerian Police or South African Special Forces (Army or Police)? I guarantee you, I would take the South Africans anytime anywhere in Africa as I trust them completely not to shoot me on purpose. That is how highly rated they are and the reason we say to you, fly SAA or any of the major US, European or El Al airlines. The flag of that aircraft depends who will rescue you. I really don’t want non-professionals close to me in such circumstances.
So when it came out, a week ago, that Aljazeera, the Arab news company, dramatically revealed that South African hostages are at times paid off, ransoms paid, I laughed. Really? This is news? Nah, is not. South Africa, like every other country, negotiates at times and ransoms are paid by major multinationals no matter what they sprout in public on their robust ideas of not negotiating or paying.
Do you know there exists companies making excellent money (not mine) delivering ransom money? Yeah, like in the movies. Or that you have specialist insurance against this type of thing. Again, a debate. Some feel the employee should not know he is insured because, it is said, he will then fake his own kidnapping. Yeah, it says a lot about the trust or complete lack of it between the company and the employee. The company obviously does not know what investigations take place after a kidnapping including polygraphs, bank account checks etc. Of course, the company also would have forgotten to make this part of the employee’s terms & conditions of employment so perhaps it is a good thing from their view. For me, when dealing with senior people, I feel he should know he has insurance and he will be checked afterwards. The insurance company will insist. How many companies have this insurance? Almost none, they live in their dream world of it not happening and yet, in 2012, according to the FBI no less that 500m USD was paid out on ransoms in Africa. Yeah, it is not happening, wake up!
Every country, even the USA, negotiates no matter what they say in public. The Italians are known to pay easily and hence targeted. That is the real reason for the stance on not paying / not negotiating. They say it will endanger more citizens. There is no evidence of that, by the way, none. A certain percentage of business executives will always be at risk, mostly because they are found with loose women when travelling and at places where they should not be. And 99.9% of them are married men, yep, happily also they say.
The French will most certainly attack and launch rescue attempts if their citizens are involved, and they succeed, mostly. I find that many readers think of France as the defeated country of 1940, a British propaganda stunt if ever. You cannot be more wrong and by the way, they were not the only one defeated, we had the Dutch, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and the UK defeated in that month of May 1940. Ah, Dunkirk, and I can write a lot about the British Army abandoning their heavy equipment, the myth of the beaches and the fact that they did not return to France as agreed but waited for American assistance, in effect abandoning France until 1944. Of course, you will not read this view in English history books. Dunkirk apparently was a miracle, not a disgraceful defeat at all, no French troops formed the rear guard enabling them to run away. Oh and they stood alone, my word, no mention of the entire British Empire (close to 100 countries) standing with them! Let me tell you, France will attack. Recent history showed us that in Mali and other places where French Special Forces rescued hostages. What you also may not know is that they prevented the first 9/11 attempt in 1994 already in Marseille. So you are advised to fly Air France.
The US and UK, yes they will try to rescue you but recent history shows they failed every time they did so during the last few years, the hostages died before they could be rescued. And where a South African was involved in Yemen I think, no apology was issued for his death (probably scared of being sued). US President Obama could not even be bothered to mention his name or nationality when he announced yet another failure. Why have they failed? The units are as good as and better than most. My feeling is that the politicians tried to get cooperation from the locals before the attack was launched, a fatal mistake and they were almost certainly betrayed beforehand.
However, all the above are what? Government policy. What about company policy, can you negotiate and pay up? Interesting legal question this is as you are subjected to the policies of your country and the laws in not interfering with the workings of the police. On the other hand, you can negotiate or so is my feeling but not by yourself, you are not geared or smart enough, leave this to the experts. And you may pay ransoms too, why else are the insurance allowed. However this must be managed and it is not, sadly. But do not deceive yourself, politicians are even less able to bring kidnappings to an end.
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. During his police years, he was awarded the South African Police Medal for Combating Terrorism twice besides lesser awards. 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 commercial law attorney for eight years. These days he is the owner of JKLS Africa and Associates, a specialist legal consultancy which specializes in reducing legal risk in sub Saharan Africa. He wrote several books on business, law, counter-terrorism and security issues. At times he is asked to participate on the Voice of America regarding legal forensic matters.