High drama as Africa’s youngest billionaire abducted in Tanzania

JOHANNESBURG — This is a very odd story that will no doubt probably result in some kind of ransom being asked for. Tanzania is usually quite a placid part of Africa – it hasn’t faced the same security threats that neighbours such as Kenya have had to endure over the years. So, the disappearance of this gentleman is interesting, to say the least. Probably the kind of stuff that Wilbur Smith novels are made of… – Gareth van Zyl

By Ken Karuri

(Bloomberg) – The family of a Tanzanian billionaire industrialist who was abducted last week offered 1 billion shillings ($437,000) to anyone with new information that will lead to his rescue.

Africa’s youngest billionaire Mohammed Dewji.
Africa’s youngest billionaire Mohammed Dewji.

Three phone hotlines have been opened to gather information about the kidnapping of Mohammed Dewji, the 43-year-old owner of MeTL Group, a family spokesman told reporters Monday at the company’s offices in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. The spokesman, Azim Dewji, didn’t take further questions.

The abduction of Dewji, listed by Forbes as Africa’s youngest billionaire with a net worth of $1.5 billion, is the latest worrying turn for Tanzania. Once described as an “island of peace” in a turbulent region, the East African nation has seen a recent spate of politically motivated violence. Police have arrested 26 people in connection with Dewji’s kidnapping, the local Mwananchi newspaper reported Monday.

Also read: MeTL Group: Inspirational African entrepreneurialism at its best

MeTL accounts for about 3.5 percent of Tanzania’s gross domestic product, according to its website, importing items including palm oil and consumer goods, while exporting agricultural products such as sugar and fertilizer. Operating in countries including Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda, it employs about 24,000 people.

Armed ‘White Men’

Former lawmaker Dewji was seized by unidentified people around the Colosseum Hotel in Dar es Salaam at about 5:35 a.m. on Oct. 11, the spokesman said. The East African, a regional newspaper, cited the city’s police commander as saying he was taken by armed “white men.”

Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola told reporters Saturday that there have been 21 reported kidnappings in Tanzania between January and October, but they were isolated incidents with varying motives. He said the country with East Africa’s third-biggest economy is safe for investors.

Amid speculation over Dewji’s disappearance, a Twitter hashtag #bringbackourmo has been tweeted about 1,400 times.

“Another night we go to sleep without knowing where our fellow Tanzanian and brother @moodewji is or his condition,” Zitto Kabwe, the leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency, said late Sunday on Twitter. “Mo’s wife and children are in what state? His parents are in what state? It is very painful.”