Interview by Abdi Moalim in Mogadishu
Former Somali pirate Mohamed Abdi Hassan, who goes by the nickname “Afweyne”, was once one of the most feared pirate leaders operating from the country’s central coast.
According to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia’s 2012 report, Afweyne and his son Abdiqaadir were implicated in the hijackings of seven vessels between April 2009 and October 2012.
But after announcing in January that he wasquitting his life of “gang activity” on the high seas, Afweyne has been engaged in efforts in the Mudug and Galgadud regions to¬†reform more than 1,000 youths who have followed his lead and renounced piracy.
In an exclusive interview with Sabahi, Afweyne, now 60, denies having ever taken hostages or collected ransom money, but he says he regrets his past career and has put it behind him.
Sabahi:¬†How did you become a man famous for piracy?
Afweyne:¬†I owned a large fishing company and my output was significant, but when foreign ships attacked us and we could not go out to sea or make a living, we decided to take steps to protect ourselves, which was a legitimate form of self-defence and it was not about harming business or aid.
We were fighting against those who were destroying the sea and preventing us from entering it. Therefore, I was not a kidnapper, but was a leader of this legitimate self-defence movement. We organised the youth of the region and the aim was to protect ourselves and not to kidnap.
We began that operation in 2004. However, I quit when it later turned to kidnapping and piracy.
Sabahi:¬†When did you begin fighting against piracy?
Afweyne:¬†In July 2011, I began a study on how to do something about [fighting against piracy]. When I was certain that I could take measures against it, the government gave me full permission to fight piracy. From that time until now, I have attained consecutive victories and succeeded in bringing together [many pirates] in one centre.
Sabahi:¬†Why did you decide to fight against the action that you started yourself?
Afweyne:¬†There are two reasons behind this.
The first is that I do not want a bad name for my country and I made this decision for my conscience and my patriotism [‚Ä¶] and my goal is to¬†eradicate piracy from all of Somalia.
The second reason is that the entire world felt I started piracy [in Somalia] and that affected me greatly. I was not happy about that because a shameful and ugly thing took place.
Sabahi:¬†How did you begin your anti-piracy campaign?
Afweyne:¬†I travelled to several coastal regions of Mudug and Galgadud and made contact [via telephone] with people in the places I could not visit that were controlled by al-Shabaab. I met with elders, clerics and leaders of the pirates, after which I presented them with the idea to abandon piracy. I succeeded.
Sabahi:¬†How many young people have you convinced to quit piracy so far?
Afweyne:¬†We have persuaded 1,023 to quit piracy. These include some that have become convinced that piracy is not good [and have been integrated back in their communities] and some that are [undergoing rehabilitation] in camps. As a result, attacks from the beaches of Mudug and Galgadud have been eliminated.
Sabahi:¬†Can we now say that piracy is over?
Afweyne:¬†Yes, we can say that because¬†in the last two years that I have been engaged in this work there has been no attack¬†[in those areas].
Sabahi:¬†Where is your operations centre located?
Afweyne:¬†Our operations centre is in Mogadishu. Our organisation’s name is the Somali Anti-Piracy Agency. We are recognised by the government and there is no location restriction imposed on us. We communicate with youth wherever they are in order to persuade them.
Sabahi:¬†Who funds your work?
Afweyne:¬†I collect funds from Somali businesspeople. Expenses have been documented, but I cannot comment on how much it is now.
Sabahi:¬†What kind of tools do you use to fight pirates? Do you engage in armed confrontation with them?
Afweyne:¬†We are not fighting to kill but to change minds. This is an awareness campaign, and we promise [those who quit piracy] that we will care for them.
Sabahi:¬†What message do you have about piracy?
Afweyne:¬†I am calling on the youth still engaged in this action to quit and align themselves with the anti-piracy movement and release their hostages, because it is a really bad thing to kidnap a human being and try to get [ransom money] for them.
This is not good for humanity, Islam or Somali culture. I am also calling on the government to pardon youth who quit piracy.