Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur
To attach the word "country" to Somalia, founded in 1998 as a sanctuary for the hundreds of thousands of Darod clans peoples fleeing massacres in the south, is beyond a stretch for the word; there is not really a government, it is run by varying tribes at best, and has rampant illiteracy, no employment, no transit, nomadic paths suffice as roads in most parts, a land of nothing. Pg 10..."contrary to the oft-recycled one-liners found in most news reports, Somalia is not a country in anarchy. Indeed to even speak of Somalia as a uniform entity is a mis-characterization, because in the wake of the civil war the country has broken down into a number of autonomous enclaves." We have a significant population of Somalis settled by our US government in St Paul and Rochester, MN; it is a troubled people who do not assimilate well and the boys and young men are readily recruited by Islamic jihadists today and repatriated to fight "infidels" in Somalia or elsewhere. Pg. 5...."Somalia is like a country out of a twisted fairy tale, an ethereal land given substance only by the stories we are told of it."
His flight to Somalia from Chicago took 45 hours and connecting through five airports, of sorts. The map in the front of the book was an excellent reference for me about the geographic area, central to being understood to appreciate the revelations in the book. I referred to that map repeatedly while reading to distinguish between Somalia and Somaliland, something I never before understood and the locations of Mogadishu, Puntland, Bosasso, and Galkayo. It was an intriguing read. Most of the commercial vessels do not employ security guards which are expensive. The vessels travel slowly and the pirates can easily overtake them.
The author traces the history of the clans and details how piracy is more a business than an organized crime. Reading about the Somali coast guard (pgs.74-76) reveals the circuitous nature of the Somalis who might begin serving in their rag tag coast guard, then move on to employment as guards on foreign vessels and then as greed overcomes their senses, they hijack the very vessels they were hired to protect and link up with pirates only to later on become employed as guards or even service men in the coast guard. The author debunks the myth perpetuated by liberal leaning columnists of how the native fishermen have been driven into piracy while reporting that indeed the waters are being stripped of fish, lobster by the commercial vessels from China and Korea, Taiwan. Corruption is rampant but not deemed bad in Somalia but just how the clans operate politically. International efforts have achieved little to nothing. The foreign lines captured have determined it preferable to pay the sums demanded by the pirates to avoid capturing and then what to do with the pirates. They are not wanted in any of the affected countries. The piracy profits are not all that much because proceeds must be shared amongst many foot soldiers in the piracy and all their families as well as the backers, or investors.
Page 245 summarizes the progress of Somali piracy over the last five years despite international efforts; it has become more lucrative with higher ransoms demanded and paid, the gangs of pirates are slightly more organized and the encounters are becoming bloodier, more violent. The epilogue proposes some solutions including keep on paying. "If there is one thing on which every commentator on Somali piracy agrees, it is that the problem must be solved on land, not merely at sea." page 247. Page 248, "the problem with getting tough with the pirates is that just one misstep could occasion a monumental financial or even ecological disaster, to say nothing of the potential loss of life. ...In short, for pirates, coming home empty handed might prove as lethal as facing a team of Navy SEALS. They are scared, desperate and unpredictable, and only one jittery finger on a grenade launcher would be needed to detonate an oil tanker and send a few hundred million dollars--more than the total of all ransoms paid to date--straight to the bottom of the ocean..."
I give this book 4 1/2 ****; and recommend it to people who want to learn more than the news reporting which is often exaggerated as well as slanted. It is just one more example of why I am amused when people tout the breadth of their knowledge and yet base their opinions on what they hear in the news... Here is the back cover: