Murder by Contract: Targeted killings in eastern and southern Africa

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If you were a candidate standing for political office, a whistleblower in possession of an explosive secret, or an activist campaigning for your community, would you continue to fight for justice if it meant risking your life? Or the safety of your family? For many, the threat of targeted killings – including those outsourced to hitmen – is not a hypothetical threat but a lived reality.

This report, from GI-TOC’s Observatory of Illicit Economies in East and Southern Africa, aims to quantify the frequency and form of targeted assassinations in South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique.

The effects of targeted killings go far beyond the pulling of a trigger: they threaten a country’s security, politics, judiciary and economy, and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that warps the fabric of society.

This report brings together data on assassinations from GI-TOC’s years-long monitoring of targeted violence in southern Africa. The data provides an opportunity to compare the methods, location, fatality rate and price of targeted killings across the region. The methodology developed for this research also forms the basis of the GI-TOC’s global monitor of assassinations, earmarked to be launched in November 2021.

The analysis found that politically-motivated hits are a significant proportion of targeted killings in all three countries, as a way for corrupt figures to eliminate political rivals and abuse power. Organized crime hits occur as a result of power struggles within the illicit economy and the silencing of whisteblowers, activists and witnesses. The lockdowns and restrictions on movement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic also seems to have (at least temporarily) repressed levels of targeted violence.

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