Desperate Somali women are flocking to the coast to marry pirates! This is perhaps the most outrageous claim of the past ten days, during which Somalia’s pirates have succeeded, more than any aid or news organization so far, in drawing the world’s attention to the plight of their country—the world’s longest running failed state.
In 2006, a U.S.-backed invasion by neighboring Ethiopia overthrew the only functioning government—an Islamist regime—that Somalia has had in two decades. And more than half of Somalia’s seven million people are now living under threat of famine. These are just a couple of the reasons behind the latest scourge of waterborne gangs currently trawling ¼ of the Indian Ocean. These gangs aren’t religious terrorists; their god is cash.
Here’s who the pirates are: Militias calling themselves “coastguards,” made up of strike teams of gunmen who have fought in the employ of various warlords for decades, fishermen who have found a more lucrative prey in tankers than in tuna, and a few techies capable of reading a GPS, or making a call on a Satellite phone. (Months of ransom negotiation can cost roughly $40,000, so the pirates wisely use the phones aboard the captured vessels.) At the top of the food chain are warlords —or businessmen. Call them what we will, the label means little. Many belong to the northern-based clan called Majarteen, the family of Somalia’s recently ousted and politically powerless president, Abdullahi Yusuf, who also happens to be one Somalia’s most notorious warlords. This is how business has been done for more than two decades in Somalia: leadership means little more than the acquisition of money, and the pirates are no different.