Piracy as a manifestation of state failure: a historical context for Somali piracy and its suppression
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Sarah-Letetia Craze
This thesis establishes the Somali piracy epidemic of 2008-12 as a conflict between how Somalis perceived their own sovereign authority and the rules of centralised state norms established by the international community. I argue that as the dominant force in the conflict, the international community’s efforts to apply these rules was complicated by the re-emergence of historic contradictions between the need for immediate deterrence of pirates and the long-term objectives for piracy suppression. The criminalised war economy that grew out of the Somali state’s collapse in 1991 strengthened the Somalis’ historic cultural tradition of equating wealth with respect, a prime motivator for piracy. However, while ‘state failure’ provided a convenient explanation for the harsh reality of life in Somalia, it ignored the Somalis agency in their post-state collapse state-building efforts. The international community’s ignorance of the state-like authoritative constructs Somalis had built for themselves, especially in Puntland, meant the incomplete ‘state failure’ narrative fed the UN’s decision to suppress Somali piracy. Historically, ship-owners and merchants always want states to protect their trade from pirates without controlling it, but states were disinclined to sponsor any large-scale naval intervention against pirates unless faced with considerable economic or national security threats. This created a divergence of interests in the piracy’s suppression that had the effect of dispersing the power to stop it. This situation occurred again in response to Somali piracy. Merchants and ship-owners took the path of deterrence: using self-protective measures to avoid pirates, such as arming ships or resolving hijack situations as quickly as possible, by paying ransoms. The UN took the suppression path of naval intervention, prosecution, and land-based initiatives. For all stakeholders, this proved a highly complicated, expensive, and problematic task. Somali piracy suppression became more an expression of state prestige than an effective suppression of piracy. For the UN though, Somali piracy exposed an entrenched, mutual distrust between the Somalis and the international community that had fed their neglect of Somalis since the mid-1980s. The demise of the Somali piracy epidemic is commonly attributed to the international community’s naval patrols and the use of armed guards. Eventually, the efforts by successive presidents in Puntland to stop young men from turning to piracy gained the UN’s attention. Today, Somalia is moving from failed state to fragile nation. With international assistance, Somalis endeavour to exert sufficient sovereign authority over individuals and protect their own fishing waters for foreign interlopers despite a cultural ambivalence to the criminality of piracy. The question still remains whether the pirates are gone for good.
Keywordspiracy; Somalia; Somali piracy; piracy suppression
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