Living in the West, you could be forgiven for thinking that Somalia was little more than a dark and dangerous pirate theme park where American ship captains and US special forces go to gain their 15 minutes of fame. But piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa is merely a symptom, not the disease. The underlying issue is that the world has left Somalia to fester as a failed state for 18 years.
That's nearly a generation that has produced civil war, anarchy, massive civilian casualities and displacements. The chaos has given birth to extremism and terrorism. True, optimism is not in huge supply when it comes to Somalia, but with the right international approach, there are a few green shoots of hope that might be nurtured into some sort of stability.
Although Somali President Sheikh Sharif has been having a hard time consolidating the newly formed Government of National Unity, his efforts in reaching out to radicals, and their willingness to engage with him, have shown it is possible to draw their leaders into a negotiation process – if they see that they can gain from it.
The epicentre of the problem manifested in the piracy upsurge is the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. After being a relative success story within Somalia, Puntland risks becoming another failure. The international community needs to focus on training a coastguard and security forces more widely and engage with pirate groups to draw them into a refashioned security sector.
This has to go hand-in-hand with an economic rescue package that would revive Puntland and create an alternative for those drawn to piracy out of sheer survival.
The international community should also draw up a list of individuals who pull the strings of the piracy business, undercut their distribution systems and threaten travel bans and legal procedures against those – the majority, in fact – who have dual Somali/Western nationality.
Instead of conducting military operations that would give the pirates and the insurgency a common cause, the international community should bring radicals to the negotiation table and be willing to make concessions to them for the benefit of peace, if and when they abandon their aggressive anti-government campaign.
The solution to the symptom of piracy at sea lies in treating the disease of long-term anarchy on shore. Stabilising Somalia and delivering a negotiated peace settlement addressing the root causes of the conflict is not going to be easy, but ultimately it is the only thing that will work.
Daniela Kroslak is the Deputy Africa Program Director and Andrew Stroehlein is the Communications Director of the International Crisis Group.
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