War torn since civil war began in 1991, Somalia is the classic case of what political scientists like to call a “failed state”. With no lasting government, the country has divided itself into different regions which, some more than others, claim control for themselves. The problem of Somalia is that it sits on the Horn of Africa, an area that is crossed by 24,000 ships every year.
The lack of government on land and rising criminality soon turned to the seas and piracy became an issue, not only for the region but for most of the world. NATO countries took the lead and tried to solve the problem by policing the entire region but their efforts have been useless since the area is just too big. NATO’s solution was destined to fail given that the alliance tried to tackle the symptom and not the disease.
The absence of public infrastructures, health, education are the causes driving young Somalis into piracy. Unemployment reached 54% in 2012 and youth unemployment peaked at 67%, one of the highest rates in the world. Numbers that illustrate the lack of future prospects that make piracy seem like a reasonable choice.
Piracy is not a problem of today, It is an issue as old as maritime exploration. The Mediterranean and the Caribbean are two of the places where piracy was common in the past. The solution came in the form of investment on land. The development of infrastructures, government and public services created more stable societies that were successful in enforcing the rule of law. When there were prospects on land, criminality in the sea became a last resort and piracy was extinguished.
A solution for Somalia must, therefore, take this – the whole political economy – into account. It is not difficult to provide alternatives to piracy, a way of life that has a 10% chance of getting Somalis killed, injured or arrested. Also, when all the costs are considered, piracy is only profitable for the leader of the gang. NATO should look to these examples if it hopes to find a solution in the foreseeable future.
VASCO COTOVIO is a freelance Journalist and International Relations MA student at Queen Mary, University of London. He comes from Lisbon, Portugal.