Somali pirates are back (spoiler
Islamic State has established a toehold, and is also a base for al-Shabaab. Every week there are assassinations, ambushes, and suicide attacks.
Garowe, 200km from the coast, houses the region’s politicians and business elite. Lots of investment in the pirate industry has come from the wealthy in this city. The evidence is in the skyline: the unmistakable Holy Day hotel for example, shaped like the hull of a ship, is owned by a famous pirate who has now transformed it into apartments.
In front of another of the city’s hotels waits a 10-metre-long pink limousine. Ali Ahmed rents it out for $50 an hour and says there was a great demand for it during the heyday of piracy. Now it’s only in use a couple of times a month, mostly for weddings. One of the front wheels is flat.
Garowe is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. There are electricians from India, Pakistani construction workers, Kenyan chefs, Ugandan receptionists, tattooed South African security guards, and several Somalis who have returned from distant places like Stockholm, Melbourne, and Minnesota.
People walking in the streets are not armed. Money is still being laundered, but the criminals have become more discreet. The notorious arms dealer Gaagaale – “he who stutters” – no longer has a shed down by the roundabout. You can, however, still buy Makarov pistols from him for $1 600 or a Kalashnikov for $1 400 if you know someone who has his number. Apparently, my Danish-Somali guide does.
We drive to the Puntland Development Research Centre, a respected NGO, to find out how the pirates have made a comeback after seemingly being reduced to a problem of the past.
“Their access to ships was blocked, but the criminal networks prevailed. Therefore, they have resumed the attacks now that the world seems to have forgotten about them again,” explains Abdinasir Yusuf, who has been researching piracy and criminal networks in Somalia for 10 years.
“Only the increased number of guards on the ships means that the scale of piracy is smaller this time around.”
The first pirates were fishermen who attacked ships that exploited the lawlessness of Somalia to trawl the sea for fish and dump toxic waste. But Yusuf believes this romantic depiction has long lost its truth.
“It’s not about fish. It’s cynical opportunism. Criminals do what they can get away with – not what they can make a moral case for,” he said.
“The same organised criminals who run the piracy network have committed a lot of other crimes as well.”
He tells me about a Somali awareness campaign, which the head of the research centre, Ali Farah Ali, participated in together with the aldermen, imams, and clan leaders.
“They challenged the local mafia by presenting real arguments against the benefits of being recruited as a pirate. They are the pirate conflict’s unsung heroes. Unlike many Westernled awareness campaigns, they were both matter-of-fact and unpretentious,” Yusuf says.
The director says he showed illiterate young men in the coastal cities videos of how pirate ships were blown up and statistics proving how few pirates actually struck it rich.
These kinds of initiatives have helped stigmatise piracy. There is evidence of this everywhere in Garowe. Some semi-completed palaces are rapidly turning into dilapidated ruins because nobody wanted to buy them from the
WEDDING WHEELS: In Garowe this limousine was in great demand during the heyday of piracy.
PLAYING BALL: Only a few young men will earn a living playing football in Garowe.