Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pirate ‘stock exchange’ flourishes in Somalia

“We have made piracy a community activity”

 Somalia seemed to take another few steps forward in its apparent descent into complete anarchy last week as a suicide bomber wearing the traditional veil worn by Muslim women killed at least ten people at a graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, including two Government officials.  

The tenuous hold of the Somali transitional government, long supported by US backed African troops and military equipment, does not extend much beyond a few streets of the capital Mogadishu. To make matters worse, the war zone threatens to spill over to Kenya as Al Qaeda linked insurgent group Al Shabaab seized Dhobley, a Somali town near the border last week, defeating rival Hizbul Islam rebels whose leaders have reportedly sought refuge in Kenya. Al Shabaab had threatened to attack Kenya in June, and although it has been fighting the government in Mogadishu beside the Hizbul Islam, it is obvious that there are no long term alliances between the two: a fact that bodes ill for stability in war torn Somalia.

As is further proof of lawlessness or anarchy was needed, here it is: Reuters now reports that the pirates in Haradheere, just 250 miles from Mogadishu, have set up a sort of collaborative arrangement. A criminal consortium now allows ordinary residents to participate in the funding of ship hijackings in exchange for a future share of the loot; “a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate”. Although financiers from outside Somalia have long been suspected of underwriting Somali piracy, this new in house retail arrangement for funding piracy says much about the state of law and order in Somalia and about the depth of pirate support.

This is how it works. An ‘exchange’ was setup to manage pirate investments and finances. Much like a legitimate business would, pirate ‘companies’ seek financial participation from ordinary residents of Haradheere; this will fund future pirate activity and gets them local support and protection. Up to 72 ‘companies’ have been listed in the Haradheere exchange so far, up from fifteen when they started the exchange during the monsoons this year. Ten of these companies boast proven success in hijacking ships, a record of accomplishment that could make them more attractive to investors. This pirate "stock exchange" is open 24 hours a day and is booming.

A pirate told Reuters "The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity." They have also transformed Haradheere from a sleepy fishing village to a dusty pot holed town complete with traffic jams caused by brand new luxury SUVs purchased with ransom pickings, and a town in which Mogadishu has no control.  A local official says, “Piracy pays for everything.”

From the story of Abdirahman Ali, an exile from Mogadishu’s fighting who guards a hijacked Thai fishing boat to that of ‘piracy investor’ Sahra Ibrahim waiting for her cut of a ransom payment, piracy has stakeholders everywhere in a region with close to zero employment opportunities otherwise. Sahra got a rocket propelled grenade from her ex husband as alimony and contributed it to the pirate syndicate. Now she awaits her profit.

"Piracy related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer. "The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."

As coalition navies fight pirates at sea and merchant mariners dread transits through the region, people like Sahra Ibrahim are the fresh investors who drive booming pirate syndicates. As with other stock markets, greed overcomes everything. "I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'," she says.


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