For many of us, Somalia inspires images of lawlessness and piracy, no doubt highlighted by the incredibly violent imagery of Ridley Scott’s Blackhawk Down. Yet, even today there is far too little emphasis on the political and predominately economic factors causing Somali piracy. Western governments and corporations alike must be compelled to find lasting, long-term solutions to the Somali crisis in contrast to escalating military expenditures.
Frequently described as a failed state and international pariah, two decades of civil war have left Somalia without a functioning government to deal with the endemic piracy along its coastline nor the larger more fundamental problems of economic stagnation. A rump government nominally controls the capital city of Mogadishu while large areas in the central and southern regions of the country are controlled by al-Shabaab, a militant Islamic insurgency currently fighting against an African Union force composed of Kenyan and Ugandan troops.
Given these realities, it becomes innately obvious that any successful strategy aimed at ending piracy along the Somali coast will have to confront the rampant political instability in the country by establishing an effective government with control over a majority of national territory.
Of equal importance are the severe economic realities facing Somalis who earn an average annual income of just US $600 dollars, a situation conflated by drought and famine conditions across the region. More acceptable and sustainable economic alternatives must be created with the backing of Western governments to stem the advance of unemployed Somalis into piracy where each hijacking can net as much as $15,000 per pirate, a truly attractive prospect given the intense poverty afflicting a majority of the population. Despite the failure of previous Western missions to Somalia, notably UNOSOM I and II and UNITAF, it is essential that the West reengage with Somalia.
EU NAVFOR Conducts First Raid on Somali Coast
In what is being termed a significant development in the EU Naval Force’s Operation ATALANTA, EU forces carried out their first air-based attack against pirate facilities along the Somali coast on May 15. After tacit agreement from the international community and the support of the transitional government in Mogadishu, the European Council moved on March 23 to shift their strategic framework for the region by authorizing aerial attacks on shore-based pirate infrastructure. Five fast attack pirate boats were destroyed with no casualties reported.
Over the past four years Somali based pirates have led about 800 raids on ships across an area one and a half times the size of Western Europe with a range of up to 2800km. As of the end of April 51 incidents have already been reported this year. Presently there are between 5-10 warships and five maritime patrol aircraft acting under the aegis of the Combined Maritime Forces including NATO countries as well as China, Russia, Japan and India policing this expansive territory. According to One Earth Future Foundation’s Oceans Beyond Piracy project, piracy in Somalia inflicted estimated costs of nearly USD $7 billion to the global economy in 2011 alone. Roughly $2.5 billion dollars of this total was spent on private security and military deployments. The pirate groups recorded $160 million in ransom payments for captured vessels and kidnapped crew members. The International Chamber of Commerce states that currently 12 ships and approximately 173 sailors and crew remain in captivity.
The EU views the escalation of security efforts to include aerial attacks as crucial to prevent pirate gangs from access to the sea and a significant step in removing onshore impunity. Given that attacks doubled in the first year following the commencement of the international naval deployment in the area it is clear that there remains a clear need for alternative solutions. In this respect, the international community is making some positive strides. Most recently the International Maritime Organization organized the Conference on Capacity Building to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. However it is clear much more needs to be done to ameliorate Somalia’s current state of affairs. Patrols by foreign navies will never cease to curb piracy along the Somali coast so long as there are no permanent governing structures in Somalia and no economic alternatives for the average Somali.
When choosing between piracy or starvation and death, the choice for most is obvious.
Nicholas Bishop is currently a Parliamentary Monitor with the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa in cooperation with CIDA. He holds a law degree and an MA in International Relations from Osaka University.