"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

3.04.2010

meanwhile back in eyl

From Daniel Sekulich:
"Things have again been somewhat quiet off the Horn of Africa, owing to the sea conditions created by monsoon winds. This is a cyclical pattern like the summer monsoon, which makes it a bit safer for mariners transiting the region, though things will soon heat up again.

"...But it appears that while things have been slow on sea for the pirates, the gangs have found another way to keep themselves busy and possibly make some money: hijacking UN World Food Programme trucks carrying aid through areas controlled by warlords. As reported by the BBC, three trucks and their drivers are being held by criminals in the Somali pirate port of Eyl, the first time such an incidence has occurred in that region of the country."
Any approach to piracy that fails to view their activity as the pirates themselves view it - that is, as a criminal syndicate - is bound to fail. Frankly, I'm surprisued it's taken them this long to go after the WFP. Free food is certainly a cheaper way to feed pirates and their hostages, who are often at sea for several months while ransoms are being negotiated. But what are they doing with the rest of that food?

To figure this out, we might think about what incentive the pirates have to steal excess amounts of humanitarian aid. Obviously they can make a profit from it, but why would they take away the primary source of food for the people in whose communities they operate?

It seems to me that there are a couple of possible explanations. Maybe they feel that they can sell the hijacked food to the population for inflated prices. But there are more people in the general population than the pirates, and the pirates are in some ways dependent on the people's support. I'm not sure they would be interested in upsetting the population that way.

The other possible explanation is that the pirates want to be seen as the distributors of food. If the people are dependent on them, or at least feel that they are benefiting from pirate activity, it might help the pirates to gain more legitimacy as community leaders. It also makes them stronger than competing authorities in the region, including the local government and traditional and religious authorities. The pirates need to be able to freely operate out of Eyl, and building up popular support only makes that easier.

All of this is pure speculation on my part; there's really no way for most of us in the west to know what's actually motivating this behavior. Are there any readers out there with better insight?

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