Veteran journalist Eichstaedt (First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, 2009, etc.) explores the murky waters of Somali piracy.
In the seas around the Horn of Africa, which form the coast of troubled and fractured Somalia, pirates attack ships on a near-daily basis, and often successfully hold craft and crew for expensive ransoms. Who are these pirates and what are their motivations? Eichstaedt traveled to East Africa in search of answers, and what he discovered depended on who he talked to. The simplest answer may be that “[i]n a deeply divided, impoverished, and lawless land, the lure of piracy was virtually irresistible.” Decades of civil war robbed young male Somalis of hope and work. Under such circumstances, attacking a giant tanker in a small skiff made sense, and some suggested that piracy had evolved “into a sophisticated and well-organized industry.” Piracy on this scale, writes the author, must have clandestine backers, funding from other African and Islamist states that travels in and out of Somalia through the secretive global hawala system of money transfers. Most ominous may be the ties between pirate groups and the radical Islamist militia, al-Shabaab, which now controls southern Somalia. Ransom money may be used to purchase weapons for the group, and pirates may be engaged in gun-running for them. If so, writes Eichstaedt, the stakes are higher, as al-Shabaab becomes both a regional danger—especially to neighboring Kenya, which houses a refugee camp with 300,000 Somalis—and a global threat. The author admits that much remains unclear, but he returns often to the theme of piracy as an outcome of poverty and lawlessness. These conditions are not inevitable, and he concludes with precise recommendations for how the international community might end piracy and rebuild Somalia.
Clear, expert reporting on a region of which many Americans may be unaware.