Far from being a romanticized history, The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur is a new (July, 2011) and important book about the pirates themselves, giving readers a full-color view of their origin, their clannish culture, and their motives.
Bahadur explains through his bold interviews with financiers and respected leaders that the piracy we currently see in Somalia is a result of an evolutionary process.
Early on, in the mid 1990′s, in absence of a coast guard, Somali fishermen vigilantes, determined to protect their livelihood, began seizing the assets of small commercial fishing boats, in essence levying on them a tax of sorts for the offender’s intrusion into their national waters.
By the mid-2000′s, as Bahadur explains, these same operations became big businesses. No longer a defensive measure alone pirating became profitable and drew attention from other sectors of Somali culture.
In the “third wave” opportunism matured, attracting among others “disaffected youth from the large inland nomad population.” This group, while echoing the “worn-out mantra” of the legacy they inherited, has lost the “brooding introspection” possessed by the older fishermen vigilantes who chose the route of piracy as a means of forcing justice in absence of a government authority. It is this third wave that has extended their reach into the high seas targeting large commercial trade ships for multi-million dollar ransoms.
In the conclusion of his book, Bahadur proposes actions which the international community might take to offer a “pragmatic mitigation” of piracy, a term he uses instead of “elimination.” Among them are measures of prevention, enforcement, and intelligence. It is a problem, he says, that must be solved on land as well as on the sea.
The Pirates of Somalia is a daring book which invites readers into a world that challenges both the romanticist as well as the view of the noncritical consumer of television news.