Over the past seven years, kidnapping has become a widespread business in North and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Members of all segments of society are kidnapped, and many people – not only the members of armed groups – have become kidnappers.

This policy brief shows how this crime has developed and how the uncertain political context of 2016–2018 worsened this phenomenon. In its analysis of who kidnappers target and how they operate, this paper underscores the importance of telephone money-transfer systems and the passivity of the police and judicial authorities. Some authorities, particularly in the military, are even complicit in kidnappings. Kivuans, therefore, distrust the security forces, and the community has mobilized to put pressure on the authorities to demand justice.

The kidnapping business provides insight into the criminalization of the security services more broadly and the reasons why a growing segment of the population is being pushed into criminal activity in order to survive. Mobile phones play a key role in kidnappings not only to contact relatives and negotiate ransoms but also to facilitate money transfers. This demonstrates how criminals adapt to new technologies, even in a non-industrialized society. The government’s declaration of a state of emergency in 2021 has had no impact on this crime problem. As kidnapping still goes unpunished in North and South Kivu, communities have been developing coping strategies that may help mitigate this problem but cannot solve it. Communities should organize to put pressure on the government to take action against kidnappers.