Addressing holistically the issue of piracy in the horn of Africa

By Ali Omar Ghedi

The issue of piracy in the coast of Somalia began in 1990, when foreign vessels flocked to Somalia’s unguarded coast, profiting the marine resources and at times dumping radioactive chemical wastes as evidenced with the barrels of the 2004 Tsunami that surfaced on the northeastern coastal towns of Somalia.

According to a report issued by the UN in 2006, Somalia loses annually more than “$300 million worth of seafood” for illegal fishery by foreign vessels. As a result, the country’s coast has become the hotbed for all illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) activities. As one expert noted, the amount of resources that is lost to IUU is “staggering sum.”

That, however, was the context of piracy as we know it today. The violent reaction was particularly prompted when foreign vessels attacked the fishing nets of Somali fishermen, freezing both activities of fishermen and their livelihoods, using trawlers and water hoses to submerge local boats, which often remain rudimentary and traditional in nature.

Clearly, the Somali public see piracy differently than how the international community portrays it – as a global threat against international maritime trade. For a majority of Somali public, piracy is simply an alternative to formal coast guard that protect marine resources and the territorial sovereignty of Somalia. They view that these armed pirates are godsend sons of Somalia to provide public services and protect the seashore in the absence of Somali federal government.

In fact, some argue that local fishermen raised their concerns to the world community to intervene, but were ignored. However, the international community made outcries over the local fishermen who banded together in armed violence against illegal fishing. Initially, their goal was to draw an international attention to the issue of IUU on Somali waters.

The pushback from local fishermen was received well by ordinary Somalis, and in certain quarters, armed militias have joined forces with the effort against foreign vessels.

In the midst of that commotion, again the international community failed to address the fundamental issue of illegal fishery on the coast of Somalia that remains the lifeline of millions of coastal communities. The corporate media’s narrative painted simply a bunch of militias that pose threat on world economy – dismissing the legitimate perspective of local fisheries and the environmental hazards dumped on the seashore.

Moreover, piracy seems to be declining in the horn of Africa as a result of dispatching scores of international warships to patrol off the coast of Somalia, but the problem of illegal fishing remains unaddressed. This could hardly tackle the issue of piracy in the long term, because of failing to counter the prevailing conditions that led to the resurgence of piracy.

Similarly, it is the presence of international warships in the coast of Somalia that continue to deter Somali piracy, but analysts warn that it could return once the international warships retreat from the scene.

Maintaining a costly mission of patrolling the longest coast in Africa is not going to be sustainable in the long term. What will certainly work is to provide Somali federal government the capacity to build effective coast guards that deals not only the piracy, but also the illegal fishery and dumping that devastate the livelihoods of poor coastal communities across Somalia.

With this approach, the international community will be seen by the Somali people as a partner and the network of pirates as the bad guys that should be confronted by local stakeholders. This alternative deserves a try as it involves less than a quarter of what the international community commits currently on the initiative of fighting piracy in the Horn of Africa.

Ali Omar Ghedi is a  is senior Somali political analyst and former MP.
He can be reached at Email:


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