Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seat of the Shah, Part 3

First, to refresh our memory, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.

There are two major impacts on the world that the situation in Somalia has. One is piracy on the high seas, and the other is terrorism. Regarding both issues, Somalia is increasingly becoming a haven and a base for international lawlessness and violence. Think about the way that is phrased, because Somalia has been a failed state with a reputation for both for many years now.

First, we will address the piracy. The BBC provides excellent coverage on a variety of issues, and has a well-developed network for worldwide coverage of news and issues; furthermore, the BBC has solid background information on a variety of issues, and is rather blogger-friendly, making the codes for BBC vids (which are great) available to bloggers. For all these reasons, I start with a BBC vid from 2009's Postcard from Somali pirate capital:

Towards the end of Part 1, I pointed out how foreigners essentially rape Somalian waters. An excerpt from Postcard from Somali pirate capital makes the connection:

"We are not pirates," declared Jamal Akhmed, 32, who has just started a life sentence.

"We are gentlemen, defending our shores against foreign fisherman. It did become a business, but it was forced upon us because we were attacked. We have bills to pay and families to care for."

Assuming the man's facts are correct, his logic has a certain kind of justice to it: Why not make money through piracy attacking the foreign vessels that are depleting your fish stocks, and that are thus hurting your ability to make money legally?

The article continues:

[The commercial capital of Puntland, where pirates are held in prisons] Bossasso's police chief, Osman Hassan Uke, took us to see two alleged pirates who had just been dropped off at the port by a French warship.

The men insisted they had been sailing to Yemen to find work when they were attacked by helicopters.

"These pirates are thieves and cowards," said Mr Uke. "We will defeat them. They are not organised in the way we are organised."

He bitterly condemned the payments of ransom by foreign companies and governments.

"It is completely wrong," he said. "Whenever 10 guys get paid ransom money, 20 more pirates are created."

Paying ransom, in the long run, only encourages hostage-taking. But, without viable short-term options, it may seem the only option for a government or corporation whose people are held hostage.

Skipping down:

President [of the Somali state of Puntland] Abdirahman [Mohamud Farole] confirmed that the entire annual government budget for Puntland was "about $20m (£12m)".

But although piracy is clearly a major headache for the local authorities and for coastal communities in Puntland, Mr Abdirahman sought to put it in context.

At a cabinet meeting, the focus was on the wider conflict gripping Somalia and the widespread fear that Islamic militants in the south could seize control in the capital Mogadishu and then threaten Puntland.

"From the international point of view, piracy may be considered the number one issue," said Mr Abdirahman.

"But from our point of view, it is a tiny part of the whole Somali problem - a phenomenon prompted by the collapse of the Somali state."

President Abdirahman won the January, 2009, and in his victory speech, vowed to take on piracy and the corruption that facilitates it.

From Chasing the Somali piracy money trail, May 24, 2009:

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has made many people very rich.

A new economy has developed both within Somalia and further afield, as security companies, lawyers and negotiators reap huge profits from their involvement.

But finding out what happens to the money delivered as ransom payments is doubly difficult, first because piracy is a transnational crime, and second because Somalia is a country without rules, regulations or a functioning government.

There have been various reports that piracy in Somalia is attracting big-time criminals from all over the world; that it is being orchestrated from London; that the ship owners themselves are involved.


It has been possible to find out something about how the ransom money is distributed.

One thing is clear: the small groups of pirates who take to sea in speedboats to hijack huge ships do not get all the money.

"They are the foot soldiers," says Andrew Mwangura, who heads the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme and negotiates frequently with pirates.

"They are young men, often teenagers, and they certainly don't end up with all the money."

'Compensation' scheme

Pirates interviewed by the BBC have been reluctant to say exactly how much money they make from a successful hijacking, but reports indicate they make tens of thousands of dollars rather than millions.

This is because piracy has developed into a mini-economy, employing hundreds of people in north-eastern and central Somalia, all of whom need their share of the ransom.

Although there is no universal set of rules, a UN report based on information gathered from pirates based in the north-eastern village of Eyl, reveals some interesting information about how the ransom spoils are divided:

• Maritime militia, pirates involved in actual hijacking - 30%

• Ground militia (armed groups who control the territory where the pirates are based) - 10%

• Local community (elders and local officials) - 10%

• Financier - 20%

• Sponsor - 30%

The UN report found the payments are shared virtually equally between the maritime militia, although the first pirate to board the ship gets a double share or a vehicle.

And compensation is paid to the family of any pirate killed during the operation.

If it were only the pirates themselves getting rich, there would be no reason for local forces to not end it, despite the relative lack of resources.

Ah, but this is true of any illegal enterprise; implicit in the scheme is payment to interested parties so the activities can continue.

Due to the peculiarities of Somalia, and due to the relatively small amounts of money involved, it is not assessed that the problem is globalized or attracting attention from international organized crime, at least not yet. Ransoms paid in cash have no need to be laundered, as they are spent as cash in the local economy, and with truly big prizes available by dealing in human trafficking, controlled substances, arms and controlled technology, international organized crime has bigger fish to fry.

Stay tuned for Part 4!

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