A senior police chief in the city has confirmed reports that Mohammed Dewji, a prominent businessman and former politician popularly known as Mo, was hustled into a car outside an expensive hotel gym by several armed men.
The 43-year-old’s wealth was estimated at $1.5bn (£980m) last year by Forbes magazine, which also said it made him the continent’s youngest billionaire.
Despite his high profile and immense wealth, Mr Dewji was not travelling with any bodyguards or private security, the Dar es Salaam regional police commissioner Paul Makonda said.
Witnesses said that one of the gunmen fired into the air before dragging the victim out of the hotel where he had just finished his morning workout routine.
An Uber driver who was waiting outside the Colosseum Hotel in Dar es Salaam’s upmarket Oyster Bay neighbourhood told the local Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen that four men, wearing masks and carrying guns, carry out the abduction in front of him.
“I was about to drop my passenger at the hotel when suddenly I saw four masked individuals standing close to the hotel. They fired one bullet in the air [and] all the hotel security guards ran away,” he said.
Another Dar es Salaam police chief, Lazaro Mambosasa, said that a search was under way for the kidnappers and Mr Dewji, and police officers across Tanzania were on high alert. He also appealed for members of the public with any information to come forward immediately.
Three people have been arrested in connection with the incident and are being questioned, and two of the abductors are thought to have been white, Mr Mambosasa also said, according to local media.
Mr Dewji is the owner and president of the MeTL Group, a pan-African conglomerate which employs more than 24,000 people and makes products ranging from bicycles to detergents across east Africa. The firm, which reported revenues of $2bn in 2015, claims on its website to contribute 3.5 per cent of Tanzania’s GDP.
The company was founded as a small local business by Mr Dewji’s father in the early 1970s but under his watch has been transformed into a huge multinational with operations in 11 African nations.
Mr Dewji – who promised in 2016 to donate half his enormous fortune to charity – is a well-known figure in Tanzania. He owns the country’s leading football club, Simba SC, and until 2015 was also an MP for the ruling party, CCM.
The identity of his kidnappers and the motive for the abduction is not yet known. Tanzania has seen problems with Islamist terror groups, including Somalia’s infamous al-Shabaab, linking up with indigenous militants in recent years.
September also marked 20 years since al-Qaeda first hit the headlines by detonating huge truck bombs outside American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
There is no indication yet of any connections between Mr Dewji’s abduction and terrorism and the reported presence of white men among the gunmen who snatched him off the street may point to more prosaic motives, such as extorting his family for a ransom payment.
Tanzania last saw a high-profile kidnapping case in February when Daniel John, a leading figure in the main opposition party Chadema, was bundled into a car in Dar es Salaam while campaigning in a parliamentary byelection. His body was later recovered; he had been attacked with a machete before being beaten to death.
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