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Piracy: The Illegal Incentive

In the civilized, regulated realm of economic development, there are heaps of financial incentives, job training programs, small business loans and corporate tax rebates available to assist communities grow their local economies. States develop enterprise zones, governors offer opportunity funds and fledgling firms form industry clusters.

But what does ‘economic development’ look like in impoverished boomtowns, a world away from boardrooms and power suits? To some communities in eastern Africa, massive benefits are reaped from the booties gained by the sea-faring, hijacking pirates that cruise and curse the Gulf of Aden, a wedge of water between Somalia and Yemen that spills into the Arabian Sea.

In 2008 alone, the “pirate economy” has raked in more than $30 million in ransom monies, according to the Associated Press. But the pirates aren’t the only ones profiting. Northern Somalian towns like Haradhere, Eyl, and Bossaro actively monitor the pirate activity and actually cater to them! According to the Associated Press, when an oil tanker was captured in November, “businessmen started gathering cigarettes, food and cold glass bottles of orange soda, setting up small kiosks for the pirates who come to shore to resupply almost daily.” Pirates often snap up these goods for free, stock them like squirrels, and then handsomely repay the local businesses with ransom money. Stunningly, this actually creates jobs and stimulates economic activity in these resource-strapped, nearly invisible villages.

“Regardless of how the money is coming in, legally or illegally, I can say it has started a life in our town,” says Shamso Moalim, a 36-year-old mother of five in Haradhere.

As the international community struggles to quell piracy in Aden’s perilous waters, struggles in Somalian shantytowns are easing up a bit. Unfortunately, by all the wrong means.

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