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A "third wave" of Somali pirates?

A new group of younger, more violent Somali pirates may be on the rise, says Jay Bahadur, author of "The Pirates of Somalia."

By Kristin Rawls / September 7, 2011

A primary focus on law enforcement – rather than providing jobs and state-building – is needed to combat Somali pirates, says author Jay Bahadur.


Last week, we featured an interview with Jay Bahadur, author of the new book, The Pirates of Somalia. Bahadur talked about the roots of the piracy problem and his own travels in Puntland, the northeastern Somali region that is home to many Somali pirates. In this second half of the interview, Bahadur elaborates on the geopolitics of Somalia and considers possible remedies to the piracy problem.

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Q. You talk about a “third wave” of pirates. What does this mean?

A. The newer pirates do not have the fishing background of earlier pirates, and it is less possible for them to argue that they are doing this to protect Somali fishing. They tend to be militia men who are related to the financiers or the organizers of the mission. They are often in their late teens or early twenties – and have a background in gun-fighting. They are becoming more violent.

Q. You say that Somali pirates do not have crime syndicates similar to the Mafia. Might the pirates begin to organize this way?

A. As ransom payments increase, more people on land will start to rip off the pirates. Pirates might respond by creating standing paramilitaries. This is done in a piecemeal fashion now. Last year, they formed a militia to stop Islamists from pushing north, and I think this will begin to happen more often. I also think we will see more pirates.

Pirates are getting more resourceful. Shipping companies have added armed guards, and pirates responded by attacking packs of six or seven ships. Crews have begun locking themselves in safe areas, so pirates started bringing explosives.

Q. You say that most of the money is blown on khat and cars. Would that have to change?

A. It is pretty easy to get money out of the country, and right now, there isn’t much being fueled into inland property development, for example. Most pirates have very little education and wouldn’t know how to reinvest money. Plus, their families use a lot of the earnings.

Q. What about more lucrative goods like drugs or weapons?

A. Drugs like heroin are not a problem, and they would not be introduced in Somalia because authorities would crack down very hard. Trafficking is possible, but Somalia is not on the usual trafficking route through Central Asia. They have begun trafficking weapons, most of which come from Yemen and have also been sold to terrorist organizations in the south. There are some allegations that pirates are smuggling weapons to Islamists, but I have seen very little evidence for this.

Q. How have the legacies of colonialism contributed to the lawlessness that fuels the piracy problem?

A: The borders of the country were quite arbitrary, as with many other African states. The British planned to give part of what is now Ethiopia to Somalia, but did not. Also, the population of Northern Kenya was mostly Somali – now, about half the population is Somali. Somalis still think of parts of Africa and Kenya as theirs.


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