Piracy raises pressure for new international tack on Somalia
The world is not willing to allow this strategic nation to remain ungoverned. Can a coordinated effort create a stable government?
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Who are the pirates – and can they be reined in?Skip to next paragraph
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Piracy has plagued the Somali coasts for generations, but only became a sophisticated criminal enterprise in recent years, when profit-minded militia leaders teamed up with coastal fishermen to attack the many commercial ships passing through the Gulf of Aden on their way to and from the Suez Canal.
Since commercial ships, such as the Saudi-owned oil-tanker Sirius Star, are relatively unprotected, piracy on the high seas is an attractive business in a country with few business opportunities.
Recent brazen attacks – including the capture of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star, carrying $100 million worth of oil, one-quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily production – have prompted some security experts to question whether Somali Islamist groups, or even foreign terrorist groups, might be using piracy to fund their military ambitions.
While the pirates have become more sophisticated, their ties to Somalia's Islamists are tenuous at best. Their bases are in the quasi-autonomous Puntland region – far from the Islamist-controlled south, where courts have recently sentenced pirate crews to 20 years in jail.
"Nomadic peoples have mastered the idea of survival, and even now, with a huge number of patrols, pirates can reasonably think they have nothing to lose," says Mr. Jhazbhay. Piracy can be controlled only if Somalia is stable and has an effective government, he adds. "When the Islamists were in power for six months, the message went out, piracy will not be tolerated."
"The world is preoccupied with a symptom – piracy – instead of concentrating on a political settlement, the core of the crisis," says Rashid Abdi, a Somali analyst for the International Crisis Group. "There is no quick fix to ... [this] tragedy, but this opportunity must not be missed."
How did Somalia fail as a state?
Since the military government of Siad Barre fell in 1991, Somalia has been ruled in varying degrees by traditional clan leaders and warlords.
Some regions in the north, such as Somaliland and Puntland, broke away and declared independence, while the southern majority remain bogged down in the near-constant fighting.
A brief US military intervention in 1992 and 1993 – intended to secure the flow of humanitarian aid during a famine – failed to leave behind a stable government. A similar intervention by Ethiopia (which has a sizable Somali minority) has also failed to prop up a moderate secular Transitional Federal Government.
Both foreign interventions were unable to create a government that represented all clan groups. "What it takes is to create a government where all groups are represented, and where traditional elders have a role," says Jhazbhay. "Previous governments tended to be one person, bringing one group to a position of power, and the other groups were not comfortable with that."
Will the West ramp up military operations and intervene again in Somalia?