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1 Burnside Africa- Somalia
1 Local Warehouse World History- Africa

This title in other editions

The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World


The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World Cover

ISBN13: 9780307379061
ISBN10: 030737906x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Where the White Man Runs Away

It was my first trip to Africa.

I arrived in Somalia in the frayed seat of a 1970s Soviet Antonov propeller plane, heading into the internationally unrecognized region of Puntland on a solo quest to meet some present-day pirates. The 737s of Dubai, with their meal services and functioning seatbelts, were a distant memory; the plane I was in was not even allowed to land in Dubai, and the same probably went for the unkempt, ill-tempered Ukrainian pilot.

To the ancient Egyptians, Punt had been a land of munifi cent treasures and bountiful wealth; in present times, it was a land of peo­ple who robbed wealth from the rest of the world. Modern Puntland, a self-governing region in northeastern Somalia, may or may not be the successor to the Punt of ancient times, but I was soon to discover that it contained none of the gold and ebony that dazzled the Egyp­tians—save perhaps for the colours of the sand and the skin of the nomadic goat and camel herders who had inhabited it for centuries.

The cabin absorbed the heat of the midday African sun like a Dutch oven, thickening the air until it was unbearable to breathe. Sweat poured freely off my skin and soaked into the torn cloth of my seat cover. Male passengers fanned themselves with the Russian-language aircraft safety cards; the women fanned their children. The high whine of the Antonov’s propellers changed pitch as it accelerated along the Djibouti runway, building towards a droning cres cendo that I had not heard outside of decades-old movies.

The stories I had heard of these planes did nothing to put me at ease: a vodka-soaked technician banging on exposed engine parts with a wrench; a few months prior, a plant-nosed landing at Bossaso airstrip after a front landing strut had refused to extend. Later, in Bossaso, I saw the grounded craft, abandoned where it had crashed, a few lackadaisical guards posted nearby to prevent people from stripping the valuable metal.

This fl ight was like a forgotten relic of the Cold War, a physical testament to long-defunct Somali-Soviet geopolitical ties that had disintegrated with the countries themselves; its Ukrainian crew, indentured servants condemned forever to ferry passengers along this neglected route.

Over the comm system, the Somali steward offered a prayer in triplicate: Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, as the plane gained speed. The whine heightened to a mosquito-like buzz and we left the ground behind, setting an eastward course for Somalia, roughly shadowing the Gulf of Aden coastline.


As I approached my thirty-fifth weary hour of travel, my desire to socialize with fellow passengers had diminished, but on purely self-serving grounds I forced myself to chat eagerly with anyone throw­ing a curious glance in my direction. I had never met my Somali host, Mohamad Farole, and any friend I made on the plane was a potential roof over my head if my ride didn’t show. Remaining alone at the landing strip was not an option; news travels around Somalia as fast as the ubiquitous cellphone towers are able to transmit it, and a lone white man bumming around the airstrip would be public knowledge sooner than I cared to contemplate.

When he learned that I was travelling to Garowe, Puntland’s capital city, the bearded man sitting next to me launched into the unfortunate tale of the last foreigner he knew to make a similar voyage: a few months previous, a Korean man claiming to be a Muslim had turned up in the capital, alone and unannounced. Not speaking a word of Somali, he nonetheless succeeded in fi nding a residence and beginning a life in his unusual choice of adoptive homeland.

He lasted almost two weeks. On his twelfth day in Puntland, a group of rifle-toting gunmen accosted the man in broad daylight as he strolled unarmed through the streets. Rather than let himself be taken hostage, the Korean made a fight of it, managing to struggle free and run. He made it several metres before one of his bemused would-be captors casually shot him in the leg. The shot set off a hue and cry, and in the ensuing clamour the gunmen dispersed and someone helped the man reach a medical clinic. I later learned from another source that he was a fugitive, on the run from the Korean authorities. His thought process, I could only assume, was that Somalia was the last place on earth that his government would look for him. He was probably right.


Just a few months earlier, I had been a recent university graduate, killing the days writing tedious reports for a market research fi rm in Chicago, and trying to break into journalism with the occasional cold pitch to an unresponsive editor. I had no interest in journalism school, which I thought of as a waste of two of the best years of my life—years that I should spend in the fray, learning how to do my would-be job in places where no one else would go.

Somalia was a good candidate, jockeying with Iraq and Afghani­stan for the title of the most dangerous country in the world. The country had commanded a soft spot in my heart since my PoliSci days, when I had wistfully dreamt of bringing the astounding demo­cratic success of the tiny self-declared Republic of Somaliland (Punt­land’s western neighbour) to the world’s attention.

The headline-grabbing hijacking of the tank transport MV Faina in September 2008 presented me with a more realistic opportunity. I sent out some feelers to a few Somali news services, and within ten minutes had received an enthusiastic response from Radio Garowe, the lone news outlet in Puntland’s capital city. After a few long emails and a few short phone calls with Radio Garowe’s founder, Mohamad Farole, I decided to buy a ticket to Somalia.

It took multiple tickets, as it turned out. Getting to Somalia was an aerophobe’s nightmare—a forty-five-hour voyage that took me through Frankfurt, Dubai, Djibouti, Bossaso, and finally Galkayo. In Dubai, I joined the crowd of diaspora Somalis, most making short visits to see their families, pushing cart upon cart overfl owing with goods from the outside world. Curious eyes began to glance my way, scanning, no doubt, for signs of mental instability. I was in no posi­tion to help them make the diagnosis; by the first leg of my trip, I had already lost the ability to judge objectively whether what I was doing was sane or not. News reports of the numerous journalists kid­napped in Puntland fixated my imagination. I channelled the hours of nervous energy into studying the lone Somali language book I had been able to dig up at the public library; I scribbled answers to exer­cises into my notebook with an odd sense of urgency, as if cramming for an exam that would take place as soon as I set foot in Somalia.

The last white face disappeared at Djibouti’s dilapidated, near-deserted airport, as American F-16s performed eardrum-shattering training manoeuvres overhead. By the time the plane landed in Galkayo, I was the only non-Somali passenger on board.

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

tamerisk, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by tamerisk)
Bahadur has gone deep in exploring the causes of this seaborne crime wave, charting its explosive growth and humanizing the brigands who have eluded some of the world’s most powerful navies . . . [He] captures the inner workings of Somali piracy in extraordinary detail.
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Lenny, December 21, 2011 (view all comments by Lenny)
An absorbing and surprising account of the turf war and political strife off the coast of the Horn of Africa. I was riveted to the last.
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tamerisk, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by tamerisk)
Bahadur, by living amid the pirates, acquired firsthand knowledge on how they think, organize and the dangers they face kidnapping ships. He has wrote a very indepth book about this serious problem of seaborne crime wave and the country of Somalia.
The book brings you into 2011 and Bahadur devotes his last chapter on how he perceives the fix-it answers might be.
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Product Details

Inside Their Hidden World
Bahadur, Jay
Pantheon Books
Crime - True Crime
Publication Date:
9.47 x 6.55 x 1.24 in 1.36 lb

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » History and Social Science
Featured Titles » Staff Favorites
History and Social Science » Africa » Somalia
History and Social Science » Crime » True Crime
History and Social Science » Military » Naval History
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Foreign Policy
History and Social Science » World History » Africa
History and Social Science » World History » General

The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.95 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780307379061 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

With continued civil and political unrest and a recent, unusually severe drought forcing food shortages and pandemic starvation, Somalia is a country with a complex history and an uncertain future. That makes Jay Bahadur's account of the infamous pirates that patrol the nearby waters especially significant. Bahadur gained unprecedented access to the men (many of whom had been trained by the government in a series of failed attempts to create a national coast guard) and paints a vivid and poignant picture of their daily reality of desperation and survival. At once shocking and humane, The Pirates of Somalia will open your eyes to the other side of the news story.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The inner workings of the world of Somali pirates are astutely explored by Bahadur, a journalist who embedded himself among them to detail how 'a level of international naval cooperation unprecedented in human history has been unable to stop a motley assortment of half-starved brigands armed with aging assault rifles and the odd grenade launcher.' It's an engaging account, full of solid analysis about the collapse of Somalia and the tight-knit clan and subclan networks that keep a failed state from dissolving into complete anarchy while fostering conditions ideally suited to ocean-going criminality. Few other economic options exist for young men along this harsh coastline, largely because of abusive fishing practices by foreign trawler fleets. The institutionalization of these hijackings has created an economic order among the pirates not unlike other forms of organized crime. Coupled with the widespread addiction to the narcotic herb khat, conditions for wiping out piracy may be impossible to achieve. Still Bahadur's interviews with the pirates reveal that they rarely relish criminality; it's genuine desperation that motivates them. What's especially impressive (aside from Bahadur's sheer nerve in insinuating himself among these dangerous men in a lawless corner of the world) is the amassing of multiple perspectives — of pirates and policymakers — that support a rich, suspenseful account. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "A rare inside look...a nicely crafted, revealing report."
"Review" by , "An insightful report...revelatory journalism and astute analysis of causes and solutions that prove far more informative than any TV footage about the contemporary piracy problem."
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