What movie is in heavy rotation on DVD players in Mogadishu? Why, Captain Phillips, of course. And perhaps Black Hawk Down, too.
One consequence of Somalia’s being the poster child for libertarianism, writes documentary filmmaker Boyle, is that there is no effective government to stand up to the looters—not hungry Somalis but the fishing fleets from around the world that “have operated down the Somali coast unpoliced, unregulated and without licenses, for the best part of two decades.” Against these massive modern fishing fleets, Somalis with small boats and hand nets didn’t have a chance, and an estimated $300 million in fish was taken from Somali waters. Add to that illegal dumping of industrial waste—including nuclear waste—and it’s small wonder that Somalis are ticked off and ready to act on their anger by boarding those foreign vessels and taking a piece of the action. But how extensive is Somali piracy? The answer depends on whom you ask: an insurance company would say it’s epidemic, the State Department would say it’s under control, and the statistics go up and down depending on the intensity of anti-piracy measures. According to the British naval officer in charge of the intelligence-led interdiction program, “Somali piracy really spiked in 2008 and got the world’s attention.” The problem is ongoing, Boyle notes, but so is the rapaciousness of the foreign fleets—and piracy offers itself as one of the few growth industries in a country without much promise, such that “many more want to go out to sea than actually get asked.” Drawing on extensive interviews with aid workers, U.N. officials, naval personnel, and pirates themselves, the author pieces together a thoroughly well-constructed, swiftly paced account of what has become an intractable problem.
An eye-opening look at what would seem a localized phenomenon but that has implications for developed–developing world encounters generally.