So­mali pi­rates are back (spoiler

African Independent - - NEWS -

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.

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