Poverty, Political Instability and Somali Piracy

Poverty, Political Instability and Somali Piracy

FINANCIAL TIMES 11/14/08
By Michael Shank

Sir, To assume that the pervasive and persistent Somali piracy off the Horn of Africa is sound and fury signifying nothing of political substance, and that the solution to the madness is simply a summoning and tightening of security, is to completely misread the problem (“Pirates of the Horn”, editorial, November 11).

The war in the Gulf of Aden waters is merely a reflection of the war onshore. In the last two years, Somalia’s war – both between Somali factions and against US-backed Ethiopian troops – has displaced 1m Somalis, generated the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since the early 1990s, and killed more than 10,000 civilians. At the height of the chaos, with few incentives on land for Somali renegade entrepreneurs, piracy offered obvious lucrative economic opportunities. Why stay on land and fight Ethiopia’s occupying forces (and for what?) when one can rule the seas for riches?

The underpinnings of Somali piracy are Somalia’s poverty and political instability. The key, then, to solving the seas is to promote a humanitarian agenda on land while ensuring good governance within Somalia’s transitional federal government. On the former, the west must rally. It has resources; all it needs is the will. On the latter, this is up to Somalis – to be necessarily assisted by an immediate Ethiopian withdrawal and a hands-off approach by the US.

It appears that Somali leaders are headed in this direction. A recent Djibouti-brokered peace agreement between Somalia’s government and opposition leaders and a commitment by the TFG to usher in a new unity government and cabinet show that democracy is on its way.

Find stability on land first, then order will return to the seas.

Michael Shank,
Communications Director,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,
George Mason University,
Arlington, VA, US

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008