ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Understanding Somali Piracy: Globalisation, Sovereignty, and Justice

Piracy in Somalia has emerged from the intersections of a very specific set of processes in the country. A weakened and fragmented state and generalised poverty provide the grounds for low-cost piracy operations. The international response to piracy should not be based on considerations of security alone, but must prioritise state-building and developmental interventions because piracy is also a response to the glaring unevenness of the emergent global order.

COMMENTARY

Understanding Somali Piracy: Globalisation, Sovereignty, and Justice

Rohit Negi

much of the final consumption of commodities continues to occur in the North. The upshot is that while abstractions like derivatives and futures have found a way into public discourse, little attention is paid to the materiality of globalisation; that is, the international movement of food, minerals, fuel, machinery, consumer goods and waste. Putting it very crudely, geogra-

Piracy in Somalia has emerged from the intersections of a very specific set of processes in the country. A weakened and fragmented state and generalised poverty provide the grounds for low-cost piracy operations. The international response to piracy should not be based on considerations of security alone, but must prioritise state-building and developmental interventions because piracy is also a response to the glaring unevenness of the emergent global order.

Rohit Negi (rohit@aud.ac.in) is with the School of Human Ecology, Ambedkar University, Delhi.

“Piracy” in Somalia has been in the

news in recent months, particu

larly because there have been publicised hijacking of ships with Indian sailors on board, and because the Indian navy is amongst the most active state forces engaged in preventing maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden.1 Indeed, acts of piracy in this region are a major headache to transnational capital and states, with over 100 reported attempts and 17 successful hijackings until mid-April 2011 (International Maritime Bureau 2011). This matter though has largely been framed in India within a security discourse – barring a lone exception (EPW 2009) – and the emphasis has therefore been on military and diplomatic responses to piracy (Sakhuja 2002; The Pioneer 2011; Zeenews 2011). While that angle is of course vital and all must be done to rescue those abducted by the pirates, I believe that the situation should also be considered within a broader political, economic, and theoretical context. This calls for conceptualising the variegated processes that constitute the conditions of possibility of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden. This commentary is a preliminary attempt at such a reading.

Globalisation

Much has been written about the intense economic globalisation that we have witnessed in the last four decades. One of its features has been the restructuring of the labour process in the traditional manufacturing areas (e g, the American midwest) in the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in the dismembering of the vertically integrated firm into numerous branch plants (Sklair 2002). These in turn are fragmented across the globe, with specific concentrations in certain sites in the developing world such as China, India, Malaysia and Mexico. Even though some of these countries have emerged as important markets,

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
june 18, 2011 vol xlvi no 25

phy matters. The spaces of consumption and production are now separated by considerable distances and given the mass of material to be transported; shipping remains the only viable large-scale option.

The fact that it is the cheapest available means results, among other things, from the technological transformations that the shipping industry has undergone. The most profound but understated of these is the universalisation of the shipping container.2 These standardised steel boxes lend themselves to easy transportation from the factory to the retailer via different modes (truck, train, and ship), thereby slashing shipping costs. Today, “a single ship [can] disgorge 3,000 40-foot-long containers in a matter of hours” (Levinson 2006). The result of these changes is illustrated by facts such as these: even as coal mines lie abandoned and mining towns are in terminal decline in the United Kingdom (UK), about a third of the country’s coal imports are from South Africa.3 In other words, to transport a relatively less valuable and voluminous commodity like coal from a far-off place like South Africa is today cheaper than mining it in the UK. It is a result of such processes that the shipping industry now hauls “more than 90% of the world’s trade by volume, and has tripled its tonnage carried since 1970” (Vidal 2008). There is then an unprecedented volume of material on the seas at any given moment, and while the flows are dispersed, there are certain channels through which bulk of the material passes. One such conduit is the Gulf of Aden, through which commodities from west Asia, China, south and south-east Asia are transported to Europe and vice versa via the Suez Canal. The strategic importance of this channel is heightened because west Asian oil flows to Europe through the Gulf.

These processes are juxtaposed with the progressive mechanisation of the ships themselves. Large ships transport about

COMMENTARY

7,500 40-foot containers and tankers about 1,00,000 tonnes deadweight (DWT) with only a small crew on board. Take for instance the collision between a Greek tanker and a Cypriot container ship in O ctober 2010 – the tanker had a crew of 25 and the ship only 12.4 Another illustrative case is of the crude oil tanker M V Zirku (1,05,000 tonnes DWT), which was h ijacked off Somali waters in March 2011 carrying only 29 on board.5 While such degree of technological development has lowered costs for the shipping industry, an unintended consequence is that a large number of gigantic ships must pass through precarious waters with only a handful of crew available to repulse pirate attacks. Thus, shifting configurations of global capital and technological changes in the shipping industry create the possibility of low-tech piracy of the sort witnessed lately in the Gulf of Aden.

Sovereignty

Capital needs robust states capable of guaranteeing law and order and ensuring that the labour process and accompanying transfer of wages for commodities takes place smoothly (Clark and Dear 1984: 2-6). Somalia, however, has had no functioning and coherent state since 1991 and foreign investment into the country is negligible. But contrary to popular thinking the country is not outside the global political economy; rather, Somalia’s marginality is co-produced by processes internal and external to it. It is a state of affairs in which several foreign countries have a hand, most notably Ethiopia and the US, both of which have made armed intrusions into Somalia in the past (Samatar 2007). The latter’s involvement is on account of the fact that after becoming an independent republic in 1960, Somalia, like Angola and Sudan, became a battleground where the cold war was fought in proxy. And as the Soviet empire crumbled, Somalia too entered a period of chaos, and eventually, a protracted civil war. Since the late 1990s it has also become embroiled in the so-called “war on terror” that the US has been leading. Political machinations of the cold war and this more recent one are hinged on the creation of instability and undemocratic practices in Somalia, because indigenous agents are conceived purely as means to a larger end. Lately, a specific concoction of clan-based militarism, Islamism and vacuum in state authority has created an explosive situation in Somalia, often resulting in multiple territorial claims (Samatar 2006). The region of Puntland – around which much of the piracy happens, and where the groundbases of pirates are l ocated – has broken apart for all practical purposes, though it remains part of Somalia nominally.

So what happens when capital is confronted with a messy landscape of authority? A parallel case here is the predicament facing oil companies in certain regions of Nigeria and Angola. Corporations in these cases are happy to enter into extra-legal contracts with whichever strongman commands authority of the reserves at any given moment (Reno 1997; Negi 2010). The transport of oil and gas from inland reserves to ports is trickier. Even for a large corporation, securing hundreds of kilometres of pipeline from rebels and a multitude of other dissatisfied individuals and groups is virtually impossible. Therefore, a response has been the proliferation of offshore drilling: contracts with strongmen guarantee operation that a predominantly expatriate workforce carries out, thereby practically bypassing the home country (Ferguson 2005).

Off the coast of Somalia too, one finds novel mechanisms that seek to suspend some of these issues related to sovereignty. A strategy here is for nation states with stake in the commodities and sailors travelling through the Gulf to intervene directly. Thus, the Indian navy has been actively engaged in preventing acts of piracy alongside, in particular, the naval forces of the US, France and China. In addition, private security contractors are also part of the picture and their presence engenders thorny issues related to sovereignty. In March 2010, private security aboard the M V Al Mezaan killed an a lleged pirate during an attempted hijacking, raising “jurisdictional questions as various companies enlist multinational force of armed guards to protect ships fl ying flags of many nations” (Gallagher 2010). One should ask if private contractors are now empowered to shoot nationals from another country in international waters. Another recent development is the construction of navy base in Puntland funded by the UK-based security company Saracen

june 18, 2011

International.6 Here an authority (Puntland) that is largely sovereign but not an officially recognised state enters into contract with a private firm to help s ecure the Gulf of Aden from piracy. Finally, there was a case where French forces chased a group of pirates to whom ransom had been paid and captured them many miles inland, that is, on Somalian – Puntland – territory. Precisely how international law applies and how it is to be even interpreted in this situation are not simple questions. They are though significant at this moment when capital and facilitating states are becoming interested in territorially ambiguous – but profitable – spaces that were of little interest or use (Ferguson 2005) previously.

Justice

One thing largely missing from the security discourse is the consideration of ethical issues surrounding piracy in a manner that allows us to move beyond the popular image of the gun-toting pirate as unfiltered “evil”. As a point of departure, it is productive to compare piracy off Somalia and that in the South China Sea, which was a hub of piracy prior to the arrival of the Somali pirates on the scene (mid-2000s). The South China Sea is prone to highly organised and dangerous forms of piracy. Syndicates with representations in several countries of the region typically target larger container ships and tankers with the objective of either stealing the material being carried, which they would then resell to willing buyers, or taking over the ship itself, repainting the façade, and re-registering it through approving officers to create or expand a shipping enterprise. It should be clear that for such piracy, the crew is of no use and is overpowered and “either killed, thrown overboard, or put into life rafts and left to their own device” (Liss 2003: 63). In contrast, Somali pirates operate in small boats and with basic weapons – AK47s are the most preferred

– which means that they do not require vast infrastructure or fixed investments. For these pirates the prized possession are the hijacked crew, who they seek to trade for ransom. Most of the material being transported by the ships is consequently of little use. To that extent cases where the crew are killed are relatively rare and are likely only when the ransom negotiations go wrong. This is why recent events on the ship

vol xlvi no 25

COMMENTARY

M V Asphalt Venture are unique because the pirates freed only eight of 15 Indian crew even after receiving the $3.5 million ransom. This seems to be some sort of retribution for India’s aggressive stance against the pirates (Rawnsley 2011). This case aside, the motivations and methods of the Somali pirates are very different from those elsewhere and loss of life is uncommon. If nothing else, this should allow for a discussion on the pirates that goes beyond the good/evil binary.

We know, to begin, that those who have become pirates do not have a wide basket of livelihoods to choose from: piracy in Somalia took off in response to worsening fishingbased livelihoods as a result of first, illegal foreign fishing trawlers (in fact, the first acts of piracy were actually meant to dissuade these trawlers), and second, the Asian tsunami in 2004. It is estimated that illegal trawlers stole around $300 million worth of fish from the Somali coastline (Tharoor 2009). Even though Somali pirates are not exactly Robin Hoods – though of course, some of the money they make does drive the local economy – is not the money gained out of piracy a kind of compensation for what outsiders have stolen from Somalia?

Viewed differently, piracy can be understood as some Somalis’ claim to membership of the globalised community of consumption and perceived prosperity. If a geographical happenstance – refigured by modern engineering – called the Suez Canal can bring in $5 billion a year in revenues for Egypt (Wahba and Shahine 2010), why should Somalia not demand its fair share? And if we theorise payments to Egypt as rent on account of the country’s location as the gatekeeper of global commodity flows, is it not unfair on Somalis to merely watch hundreds of billions worth of commodities sail by their coasts? Is then piracy not a form of rent that certain Somalis collect, though of course the means they employ are extralegal? After all, the pirates bring a not inconsequential amount of wealth and resources to towns and villages otherwise “redlined” by the global economic system (Smith 1997). As a woman from the town of Harardhere says,

regardless of how the money is coming in…I can say it has started a life in our town. Our children are not worrying about food now, and they go to Islamic schools in the morning and play soccer in the afternoon. They are happy (quoted in Hassan and Kennedy 2008).

To be sure, these may be the words of someone who has clear access to the circuits of piracy-generated wealth, but they do affirm that piracy brings some hope in what is otherwise a scene of despair.

Conclusions

Somali piracy is born in the intersections of very specific and contemporary set of processes. Global capitalism as a system incorporates disparate locales through the transportation of material through the seas. Consequently, the shipping industry has greatly expanded and mechanised in numerous ways. Material worth tens of millions of dollars is carried by container ships and tankers with only a few dozen crew on board, thus leaving them susceptible to hijacking by small and relatively unorganised groups. This is not possible in most places because of the presence of working states and their naval capabilities. Around Somalia, however, a weakened and fragmented state and generalised poverty provide the grounds for low-cost piracy operations (though these are progressively becoming mechanised and organised). No doubt, there must be an international response to piracy; but it should not be based on security alone. The global community must prioritise state-building and developmental interventions as well, because piracy is not merely about acts we consider evil. It is also a response to the glaring unevenness of the emergent global order.

Notes

1 Several pirates have been captured by the Indian Navy in the last few years; in one case of mistaken identity, however, the navy destroyed a Thai fishing boat thinking it was a pirate “mothership” (Blakely 2008).

2 It is estimated that over 90% of all non-bulk shipping takes place through containers (Ebeling 2009).

3 www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/statistics/source/ coal/et2_4.xls, viewed on 14 April 2011.

4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe11520820, viewed on 18 April 2011.

5 Of these 26 were from third world countries, which is another significant facet of today’s shipping industry, and by extension of global material flow, though beyond the concerns of this paper. http://www.eurasiareview.com/the-hijackingof-the-mv-zirku-a-case-study-in-shipping-security-analysis-20042011/, viewed on 18 April 2011.

6 http://horseedmedia.net/2010/05/31/somaliapuntland-to-start-construction-of-new-navy-base/, viewed on 18 April 2011.

References

Blakely, Rhys (2008): “Pirate ‘Mothership’ Was Really Thai Fishing Boat”, The Times, 27 November. Viwed on 21 April 2011 (http://www.timesonline. co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article5235404.ece).

Clark, Gordon and Michael Dear (1984): State Apparatus: Structures and Language of Legitimacy (Boston: Allen and Unwin).

Ebeling, C E (2009): “Evolution of a Box”, Invention and Technology, 23(4): 8-9.

EPW, Editorial (2009): “Piracy or Livelihoods?”, Economic & Political Weekly, 25 April.

Ferguson, James (2005): “Seeing Like an Oil Company: Space, Security, and Global Capital in Neoliberal Africa”, American Anthropologist, 107(3): 377-82.

Gallagher, Thomas L (2010): “Private Security Guards Kill Somali Pirate”, The Journal of Commerce Online (24 March). Viwed on 12 April (http://www.joc. com/maritime/private-security-guards-kill-somali-pirate).

International Maritime Bureau (2011): Piracy News and Figures, 14 April. Viewed on 21 April 2011 (http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/piracynewsafigures).

Levinson, Marc (2006): The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

Liss, Carolin (2003): “Maritime Piracy in Southeast Asia”, Southeast Asian Affairs, 29: 52-68.

Hassan Mohamed Olad and Elizabeth Kennedy (2008): “Somali Pirates Riches Turn Villages into Boomtowns”, Huffington Post (19 November). Viwed on 20 April 2011 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/19/ somali-pirates-riches-tur_n_144942.html).

Negi, Rohit (2010): “Mining Boom, Capital, and Chiefs in the ‘New Copperbelt’” in A Fraser and M Larmer (ed.), Zambia, Mining, and Neoliberalism: Boom and Bust on the Globalised Copperbelt (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 204-36.

Rawnsley, Adam (2011): “Pirates to India: This Time It's Personal” Wired, 20 April. Viewed on 22 April (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/04/ pirates-to-india-this-time-its-personal/).

Reno, William (1997): ““

AAA
fff
rrr
iii
ccc
aa
n W
eee
aa
kk
StSt
atat
eee
sss
aa
nn
d Cd C
ooo
mmm
---
an
WW
ak Statn and Cmercial Alliances”, African Affairs, 96(383): 165-86.

Sakhuja, Vijay (2002): ““

CC
ontempor
aa
o empor y P
rr
aa
, T or

Co

nn
tt
empora
rrr
yy
iPPii
ra
ccc
yyy
,,
eTTee
rrr
rrr
oo
rr
---
ism and Disorder at Sea: Challenges for Sea-Lanes in the Indian Ocean”, Maritime Studies. Viewed on 19 April 2011 (http://kirra.austlii.edu.au/au/ journals/MarStudies/2002/29.html).

Samatar, Abdi (2007): “Ethiopian Invasion of Somalia: US Warlordism and AU Shame”, Review of African Political Economy, 34(111): 155-65.

Samatar, Ahmed (2006): “The Porcupine Dilemma: Governance and Transition in Somalia”, Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, 7(1): 39-90.

Sklair, Lesley (2002): “Capitalism and Development in Global Perspective” in L Sklair (ed.), Capitalism and Development (New York: Routledge), 165-85.

Smith, Neil (1997):

““
hehe
TTT
he
SatSatSat
aaa
nnn
iii
ccc
GGG
eee
ogogog
rrr
aaa
phphph
ieieie
sss
ofofof
GloGloGlo
---
balisation: Uneven Development in the 1990s”, Public Culture, 10(1): 169-92.

Tharoor, Ishaan (2009): “How Somalia's Fishermen Became Pirates”, Time (18 April). Viewed on 22 April 2011 (www.time.com/time/world/article/0, 8599,1892376,00.html).

The Pioneer, Editorial (2011): “Fighting Somali Piracy”, The Pioneer, 23 April. Viewed on 23 April (http:// www.dailypioneer.com/332939/Fighting-Somali-piracy.html).

Vidal, John (2008): “Shipping Boom Fuels Rising Tide of Global CO2 Emissions”, The Guardian (13 February). Viewed on 12 April 2011 (http://www. guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/13/climatechange.pollution1).

Wahba, Abdel Latif and Alaa Shahine (2010): “Egypt’s Suez Canal Revenue in July Advances 6%”, Bloomberg, 8 August. Viewed on 22 April 2011 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-08/ egypt-s-suez-canal-revenue-in-july-advances-6cabinet-website-shows.html).

Zeenews (2011): “India Proposes Plans to Tackle Somali Piracy”, 27 January. Viewed on 19 April (http:// www.zeenews.com/news683323.html).

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
june 18, 2011 vol xlvi no 25

7NXONNX YXTODNNX OD/)NNX

+056+676' 1( #22.+' /#0219'4 4'5'#4%*

5GEVQT # +PUVKVWVKQPCN #TGC 0CTGNC GNJK

5WDLGEV 'ZRTGUUKQP QH KPVGTGUV HQT GPICIGOGPV QH ;QWPI 2TQHGUUKQPCNU KP +#/4

6JG +PUVKVWVG QH #RRNKGF /CPRQYGT 4GUGCTEJ Ō CP CWVQPQOQWU DQF[ WPFGT VJG CGIKU QH 2NCPPKPI %QOOKUUKQP )QXGTPOGPV QH +PFKC Ō TGSWKTGU UGTXKEGU QH QWVUKFG GZRGTVU HQT CRRQKPVOGPV CU PQPQHſEKCN ;QWPI 2TQHGUUKQPCNU HQT 4GUGCTEJ /QPKVQTKPI 'XCNWCVKQP YQTM 6JG LQD FGUETKRVKQPU CPF SWCNKſECVKQPU HQT VJG CUUKIPOGPV CTG KPFKECVGF DGNQY

K 0Q QH ;QWPI 2TQHGUUKQPCNU TGSWKTGF
UWDLGEV VQ EJCPIG CU RGT TGSWKTGOGPV QH VJG +PUVKVWVG
KK 'FWECVKQPCN 'UUGPVKCN
SWCNKſECVKQP Ŗ 2TQHGUUKQPCNU JCXKPI /CUVGTŏU GITGG
PQV NGUU VJCP OCTMU KP
'EQPQOKEUUVCVKUVKEU QT GSWKXCNGPV HTQO TGEQIPK\GF WPKXGTUKVKGUKPUVKVWVKQPU
Ŗ -PQYNGFIG QH EQORWVGT CRRNKECVKQPU /51HſEG KPENWFKPI 'ZEGN #EEGUU GVE
GUKTCDNG
Ŗ )QQF #ECFGOKE 4GEQTF
Ŗ 5VTQPI EQOOWPKECVKQP UMKNNU DQVJ QTCN CPF YTKVVGP
Ŗ #PCN[VKECN CPF RTGUGPVCVKQP UMKNNU YKVJ CDKNKV[ VQ IGPGTCVG C YGNN TGUGCTEJGF CPF
YTKVVGP TGRQTV
Ŗ 'ZRGTKGPEG KP EQNNGEVKQP EQORKNCVKQP CPF CPCN[UKU QH UVCVKUVKECN FCVC EQORWVGT UMKNNU
CPF RTGRCTCVKQP QH 2TQLGEV 4GRQTVU4GXKGYU0QVGU$TKGHU GVE
KKK 6GTOU QH TGHGTGPEG Ŗ 2TQXKFKPI TGUGCTEJ UWRRQTV QP KUUWGU TGNCVKPI VQ GORNQ[OGPV UQEKCN UGEWTKV[ CPF UMKNNU
QH VJG YQTMHQTEG
Ŗ 2TGRCTCVKQP QH TGRQTVU CPF DCEMITQWPF OCVGTKCN KP VJG TGNGXCPV UWDLGEV OCVVGT
Ŗ %TGCVKQP QH FCVCDCUG HQT TGXKGYKPIOQPKVQTKPI QH FGXGNQROGPV UEJGOGU CPF RTGRCTCVKQP
QH GXCNWCVKQPKORCEV TGRQTVU QH FGXGNQROGPV RTQITCOOGU
Ŗ 6JG YQTM CUUKIPGF UJCNN DG TGSWKTGF VQ DG EQORNGVGF YKVJKP VKOG HTCOG URGEKſGF HQT VJG LQD
Ŗ 6JG ECPFKFCVG UJCNN DG UWDLGEV VQ VJG RTQXKUKQP QH VJG +PFKCP 1HſEKCNU 5GETGVU #EV
CPF YKNN PQV FKXWNIG CP[ KPHQTOCVKQP ICVJGTGF FWTKPI VJG RGTKQF QH CUUKIPOGPV VQ CP[QPG
YJQ KU PQV CWVJQTK\GF VQ MPQYJCXG VJG UCOG
KX 6GPWTG 6JG ECPFKFCVG YKNN DG CRRQKPVGF KPKVKCNN[ HQT C RGTKQF QH QPG [GCT QP EQPVTCEV 6JG VGTO QH EQPVTCEV ECP DG GZVGPFGF HQT HWTVJGT RGTKQF FGRGPFKPI WRQP RGTHQTOCPEG QH VJG %CPFKFCVGU TGSWKTGOGPV QH VJG +PUVKVWVG
X (GGU 6JG EQPUQNKFCVGF HGG KP VJG TCPIG QH VQ RGT OQPVJ UJCNN DG FGEKFGF DCUGF QP SWCNKſECVKQP NGPIVJ QH GZRGTKGPEG KP VJG TGNGXCPV CTGC PCVWTG QH YQTM VQ DG CUUKIPGF CPF QVJGT TGNGXCPV CURGEVU
XK #IG ;GCTU CU QP

6JG ECPFKFCVGU UJCNN DG TGSWKTGF VQ GPENQUG QPG RKGEG QH YTKVVGP YQTM
RTGHGTCDN[ RWDNKUJGF TGUGCTEJ YQTM CNQPI YKVJ CRRNKECVKQP 6JKU KU C OCPFCVQT[ TGSWKTGOGPV

6JGKPVGTGUVGFECPFKFCVGUOC[UGPFVJGKTCRRNKECVKQPUCNQPIYKVJTGSWKUKVGGPENQUWTGUKPUWRRQTVQHFCVGQHDKTVJSWCNKſECVKQP GZRGTKGPEG GVE D[ RQUV NCVGUV D[ CV VJG HQNNQYKPI CFFTGUU

T 5CPVQUJ /GJTQVTC KTGEVQT)GPGTCN +PUVKVWVG QH #RRNKGF /CPRQYGT 4GUGCTEJ 5GEVQT # +PUVKVWVKQPCN #TGC 0CTGNC GNJK 6GNGRJQPG 0Q (CZ

1PN[ CFXCPEG EQR[ QH CRRNKECVKQP ECP DG UGPV D[ GOCKN FKTKCOTPKEKP

june 18, 2011 vol xlvi no 25

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top