The dilemma facing those trying to solve piracy in Somalia is that any such efforts should start on-shore. Yet piracy’s yields are significant and alternatives are limited.
On October 31 2011, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, summed up this dilemma in a statement made to the United Nations Security Council:
‘The Somali people, especially the youth, need greater incentives not to succumb to the lure of piracy. Economic rehabilitation and creation of alternative livelihoods, especially development and rehabilitation of coastal fisheries, must be the centre of efforts to fight piracy. But as long as piracy is lucrative, alternative livelihood options will be hard to sell.’
Conferences searching for sustained and widespread solutions for Somalia such as the London Conference that took place on 23 February, the Istanbul Conference from 31 May to 1 June and the 27 to 28 June conference in the United Arab Emirates, which focused on “A regional response to maritime piracy: enhancing publicâ-private partnership and strengthening global engagement’, continue to be faced with the dichotomy of this dilemma, namely that a simultaneous comprehensive and coordinated effort on land and sea is required to ensure a prosperous Somalia.
Many of Somalia’s ruling elite and business-minded citizens are increasingly characterising the country as being on the verge of a long-desired transition. They envision that it will transcend the impasse of its seemingly intractable state of anarchy and conflict and move into a position where vital development goals can be institutionalised to create a prosperous post-conflict Somalia. Yet it is clear that both land and sea requirements need to be met to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Presently, conflict continues with a number of hard fought victories for the African Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) over the extremist Al Shabaab, but it must be noted that the notion of a functional Somali State is not founded on the assumption that the defeat of Al Shabaab is the only prerequisite for the establishment of such a State. Currently, peace remains fragile, possibly untenable without some drastic, far-reaching and expensive support and development.
The new Somali Government will come into effect on 20 August 2012 upon the expiration of the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) mandate. The TFG has been plagued by alleged corruption and there is concern that the new government will lack the expertise and skills to govern effectively and provide efficient oversight. A substantial in-country presence of the UN and identified international expertise is required to ensure the success of the new government.
In addition, in order to accomplish any development goal, substantial mapping of Somalia’s current war economy is needed. However, information and data (barring often glowing and inspiring media reports) is sparse, and decisions cannot be made upon this basis. Livestock and, although controversial, coal and the local drug khat remain Somalia’s main exports. Livestock exports in particular, constitute a huge economic activity in the region, with the majority of exports going to neighbouring countries and the Gulf. However, this is not an economy where goods are formally extracted and exported, rather they take place within established informal business networks.
According to Somali expert Mary Harper, writing for the BBC in February, with a little investigation into the Somali economy a positive and encouraging picture emerges. A number of business networks have been established, ranging from the highly successful nation-wide telecommunications industry to the emergence of smaller scale businesses such as fishmongers to dry cleaners thriving in the capital Mogadishu.
Arguably the most successful business enterprise is the Dahabshiil, a money transfer company established by Somali businessman Mohamed Said Duale. It has more than 1000 branches in 44 countries and is used by Somali’s to transfer between $750 million to $1 billion per year. Learning lessons and best practice from businesses such as the Dahabshiil and the telecommunications industry will be vital for future business development in Somalia.
Somalia remains dependent on vast quantities of aid and resources can only realistically be delivered via the sea through the country’s harbors. Somalia is well located in the nexus of the Horn of Africa/Middle East/Western Indian Ocean region for maritime trade and there is vast potential for maritime trade and infrastructural development in its ports and harbours. The ports of Berbera in Somaliland and Bosasso in Puntland are well situated, but are located far away from the Somali areas most in need of aid and development. Furthermore they are nodes in pre-existing regional and international trading networks unlinked to Southern Somalia in which social and clan ties would prove vital for trade and the movement of aid and resources.
The undeniably strong pride in their autonomy amongst locals in Somaliland and Puntland points to an uncertainty over a possible future Somali federation that could ease the movement of goods. A shift in focus is needed towards developing the long neglected and debilitated southern half of the country, with ports in Mogadishu and Kismayo arguably set to attain national, international and, indeed global significance if the government’s sovereignty and security can be established. International investors are faced with the dilemma that the current absence of infrastructure on land, which is a prerequisite for maritime trade development, prevents any commercially viable maritime trade development with Somalia, the economic risks remaining too high. Without a certain level of security, infrastructure development will not be viable.
Aspirations of connecting Somalia to regional trade are admirable, but remain highly impractical given that Somalia’s participation in trading regimes remains a challenge as it lacks de jure sovereignty. The sustainability of already existing and thriving businesses outside of a State remains the surest homegrown path to fulfilling, at least partially, the human security needs of Somalis.
A number of suggestions for economic expansion can be examined, including more aggressive investments by regional-based partnerships to ensure accountability and transparency in transactions; short term quick impact projects (QIPS) through enhanced support to Somali based INGOs and NGOs; scholarship networks with a focus on trade and skills development; improving the quality of products already successfully exported; immediate skills support for the new government and consideration for viable economic activities such as off-shore fishing factories (that are properly licensed and with specific job quotas for Somalis).
The effective combatting of piracy and armed robbery at sea is a prerequisite for economic viable solutions on land, as well as the development of a secure regional maritime trade. Loopholes in the international legal and judicial system to address piracy continue to hamper the effective combatting of this scourge. Somali based piracy came at a cost of between US$ 6.6 and US$ 6.9 billion in 2011. This is more than 110% of the Somali annual GDP. A total of 275 of the 439 piracy attacks in 2011 occurred off the coast of Somalia. During the first six months of 2012, 67 attacks have been made against vessels off the coast of Somalia. In addition 185 seafarers remain in captivity.
Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) that provide armed protection to vessels with great success come at a high cost. Meanwhile the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and its five Working Groups remain the leading international body through which a comprehensive solution to maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia can be delivered.
Recommendations that will contribute to a secure regional maritime trade include:
- the CGPCS should be the focal point for new funds donated towards the development of Somalia’s maritime security capacity;
- enhanced efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the Djibouti Code in the region;
- the establishment of a working group to adapt the Best Management Practices (BMP) to address the security needs of smaller Somali vessels that are softer targets due to size, lack of security measures as well as a lack of speed;
- clarification on the Rules of Engagement of PMSCs; increased support for the establishment of a 3000 strong professional Somalia National Coast Guard, and
- the establishment of a regional maritime information centre.
Annette Leijenaar is division head and Timothy Walker consultant in the Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division of the ISS.