Piracy off the coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

4  Somalia: a solution on land

The origins of piracy: breakdown in Somalia

121.  Following the fall of General Mohamed Siad Barre's dictatorial regime in 1991, Somalia has been in a state of almost perpetual conflict. It now suffers from multiple and diverse challenges, including a government that has been unable to project its power beyond parts of the capital Mogadishu; ongoing conflict between the government and the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab which controls much of the southern region; a famine that has put 4 million people in crisis, with 750,000 people reported to be at risk of death in the next four months;[224] and the displacement of around 2 million of its population of only 9 million, making it the third largest refugee-producing country in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq.[225] The combination of these problems and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe has led to Somalia being considered the most failed of the world's failed states.[226]

122.  Somalia is divided into three main regions, with stark differences between them in terms of governance and conflict:

  • Somaliland: A former British protectorate, Somaliland is a relatively well-governed and peaceful region in the north of Somalia. It has an established democratic government which has upheld the rule of law and is seeking independence from the rest of Somalia.
  • Puntland: A semi-autonomous region on the horn of east Africa, Puntland has its own government that is seeking a federal role in the Somali state. It suffers from extreme poverty and some conflict. Much Somali piracy operates from Puntland and the area south of it toward Galmudug.
  • South central Somalia: Containing the capital, Mogadishu, until recently much of south central Somalia was held by the main terrorist group, al-Shabab. The region is mired in conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (supported by up to 12,000 African Union troops)[227] and al-Shabab. A recent incursion by Kenyan troops across Somalia's southern border to pursue suspected perpetrators of recent kidnappings in Kenya has further heightened the state of conflict.

123.  Many submissions to our inquiry, including the Government's, noted that piracy at sea is a symptom of the breakdown of state authority in Somalia and the inability of its government to establish law and order within its borders or off its coast. The long-term solution to piracy therefore lies on land. As Major General Howes said of the naval operations:

We are treating the symptom only. We are containing a problem that emanates directly as a consequence of instability in Somalia, so the only way this is going to be resolved is over a long period of time with a comprehensive approach that reduces the insecurity in that country.[228]

International response to the crisis

124.  The international community has a history of difficult and controversial engagement with Somalia. In 1994, US-led UN troops in Somalia were withdrawn following a notorious battle in Mogadishu in which left 18 US soldiers dead and between 350 and 1,000 Somali gunmen and civilians believed killed.[229] An intervention of Ethiopian troops in 2006 on the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government to oust Islamist opposition forces was also controversial, and the troops withdrew as part of the 2008 Djibouti agreement. Nevertheless, the humanitarian catastrophe and the two security threats of terrorism and piracy have served recently to re-focus international attention onto Somalia again. States and organisations in the region, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, have registered a new sense of urgency in responding to the crisis.


125.  Numerous attempts have been made to establish a political agreement to bring about an end to the conflicts in Somalia, and this remains a key priority at the UN, which has established a UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), headed by the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Augustine Mahiga, and a UN Contact Group on Somalia. The UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is the result of a peace process that began in Kenya in 2001, following a dozen failed initiatives. The TFG is recognised internationally and aspires to govern the entire Somali territory but it has little control beyond parts of the capital, and continues to be troubled by infighting and allegations of corruption. Earlier in 2011, elections that had been planned under the 2008 Djibouti Peace Process were delayed until 2012, a deadline which some observers still consider unrealistic.[230]

126.  It is not clear how much legitimacy the Transitional Federal Government has in the eyes of Somalis. One recent media report stated that "The transitional government is seen by many Somalis as simply another militia, and a foreign-backed one at that".[231] Sally Healy, a specialist on Somalia at Chatham House, told us that the TFG is "only a government in name".[232] Nevertheless, the TFG is still supported by most of the international community, including the UK. The FCO Minister Henry Bellingham took a much more positive view of the TFG, stating that "we are confident that the TFG will now start reaching out to the different constituent parts of Somalia and actually start making a difference, giving the people of Somalia some hope for the future".[233]

127.  In addition to supporting the TFG, international engagement has broadened to include the governments of the Somaliland and Puntland regions, which have had some success in establishing institutions and a degree of order. Somaliland, in particular, is seen as a successful and stable example. Although it has not been recognised as an independent state, it has strived to act as a good international partner.[234]


128.  There is ongoing conflict within Somalia between the main opposition force, the Islamist al-Shabab, and the Transitional Federal Government. Al-Shabab controls large portions of south central Somalia and, until recently, parts of Mogadishu. The TFG is backed up by around 9,000 African Union troops (AMISOM). 2011 has seen a number of gains by AMISOM, including a major breakthrough in August when al-Shabab withdrew from Mogadishu. An incursion in October by Kenyan troops has claimed some success as well, and appears to be threatening al-Shabab's stronghold in the port of Kismayo. However, it is not clear that the intervention has been welcomed by the TFG, and some observers fear that Kenya will be embroiled in the conflict for a long time.[235] Even where it has ceded territory, al-Shabab remains a major ongoing threat to stability, as demonstrated by a recent suicide bombing in a TFG compound in Mogadishu that killed 72 people. 

129.  States in the region—particularly Uganda, Burundi and Kenya—have taken the lead in responding militarily to establish security in Somalia. The UN has called for others to support AMISOM through contributions. The EU, for example, has so far provided AMISOM with contributions worth over €258 million through its African Peace Facility. The UK also supports the work of AMISOM and will support AMISOM with approximately £27.3 million over this financial year".[236] The EU also has a small military mission in Uganda to contribute to the training of Somali security forces (EUTM).[237]


130.  The EU is the largest overall donor to Somalia. The EU has committed €215.4 million for development aid for the period 2008 to 2013, which is complemented by funding sourced through various thematic programmes.[238] According to EUNAVFOR, EU assistance to Somalia since 2003 has included:

Development aid from the European Commission (EDF)

  • €409,472,071 million of development aid from 2003
  • €215.8 million for 2008-2013 (EDF, Somalia Special Support Programme—initial envelope)
  • €175 million for 2012-2013 (EDF, Ad-hoc Review)

Ongoing development assistance in focal sectors

  • €52 million Governance & Security
  • €36 million Education
  • €48 million Economic Growth

Humanitarian aid from the European Commission for Somalia (ECHO)

  • €43.8 million for 2008, €45 million in 2009 and €35 million for 2010 (possibly €30 million in 2011)
  • €198 million since 2005 for Somalia[239]

131.  In addition to ongoing humanitarian assistance, a famine in the Horn of Africa has heightened Somalia's need for international humanitarian aid in 2011. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported on 15 November 2011 that funding for the 2011 Consolidated Appeal Process for Somalia had reached US$800 million, out of the $1 billion requirement.[240] UNOCHA also noted that the UK's 2011 contribution to the Somalia appeal had risen by over $55 million compared to that of 2010, making it one of the biggest contributers to the fund.[241] However, ongoing conflict and a ban on some UN agencies by al-Shabab had made it difficult to ensure the delivery of aid to all areas in Somalia. On 13 December 2011, UNOCHA stated that the crisis in the Horn of Africa remains the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and launched its Consolidated Appeal Process for 2012, seeking a record $1.5 billion for Somalia.[242]

132.  The ongoing problems in Somalia are of such scale that no single state can hope to have a meaningful impact alone. The UK should be very wary of international claims to deliver a solution on land in Somalia. International capacity to rebuild a Somali state is extremely limited. We conclude that the UK should continue to act through the United Nations and European Union programmes to pursue peace and stability in Somalia. We urge the Government to push for a concerted international effort to capitalise on the African Union Mission in Somalia's (AMISOM) recent military gains against al-Shabab by supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in its efforts to extend its control, build the rule of law combat corruption and encourage development.


133.  In addition to the stabilisation work above, the UN runs a number of counter-piracy projects in Somalia, largely focused on the more stable areas in Somaliland and Puntland. These include improving prison conditions and welfare, providing capacity-building and training programmes to prison staff, building courtroom facilities, and contributing to the building of prisons. In addition, the UNODC has a Somalia-wide law reform project, which covers the incorporation of piracy provisions into Somali law and the brokering of post trial transfer agreements, as well as the training of judges.[243]

UK response

134.  The UK Government regards Somalia as a key priority.[244] The Prime Minister recently stated that Somalia "directly threatens British interests",[245] and Henry Bellingham, FCO Minister, told us that the Government's Somalia strategy "recognises that what happens in Somalia matters to the UK. In addition to counter-terrorism, we have a range of interests in the country, including piracy/maritime security threats".[246] The Minister also informed us that Somalia continued to present "one of the most significant terrorist threats to the UK". The Foreign Secretary announced in 2010 that the FCO intends to open an Embassy in Somalia as soon as conditions allow.

135.  The UK is a member of the UN Contact Group on Somalia and has instigated a number of UN debates on Somalia and piracy. It has hosted visits from Ministers from the TFG, Somaliland and Puntland governments. In March 2011, DfID announced that it was substantially increasing aid to Somalia to an average of £63 million per year until 2015 as part of a shake-up of development spending.[247] Due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, and enhanced need, DfID spending on Somalia is expected to increase to at least £84.5 million for this financial year.[248] According to a letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Committee, the FCO provided over £6 million of support in the last financial year to continue building counter-piracy capacity in the region. According to the Foreign Secretary, the funding represented a total of 12 separate piracy-related projects recently taken forward in Kenya, the Seychelles and in Somalia itself, including support for courts, prisons, police and coastguards.[249] The UK has dedicated over £3 million to UNODC counter piracy projects in Somalia itself. [250]


136.  A number of submissions criticised the failure of the international community to engage with Somali society to provide a sense of legitimacy and local ownership of the political settlements and development projects. Both Saferworld, an NGO that works with Somali civil society organizations, and World G18 Somalia, a UK-based diaspora group, noted the lack of trust between the local Somali communities and the international community. According to Saferworld, the lack of structured and substantive consultation with Somali civil society has created a 'trust deficit' between local, national and international actors. Furthermore, Saferworld argued that this "impacts negatively on the effectiveness of aid programmes, undermines Somali civil society, and contributes to a sense of alienation among Somali communities from the decision-making processes that affect their lives". Saferworld and World G18 Somalia also criticised the UK's approach in channeling its funding through international NGOs, seeing this as a "lack of meaningful engagement" with Somalis and the Somali diaspora.[251] In December 2011, the Government stated that both the FCO and the Department for International Development would be willing to consider applications from UK diaspora organisations representing any region of Somalia, and that the FCO has already made grants to some Somali diaspora organisations.[252]

137.  This engagement is particularly important with regard to countering piracy. Sally Healy told us that:

Somalis tend not to have a very benign view of outside interventions in their country, and I think that anti-piracy activities need to recognise that that is likely to be the case. It is important that any anti-piracy activities give some indication that we actually care about Somalia and its people, and the protection issues that are at stake, rather than simply being concerned with shipping interests, although obviously we should be driven by UK interests.[253]

From the limited information available, it appears that there exists an ambiguous and shifting relationship between Somali pirates and the local communities, local and national politicians, and al-Shabab. For leaders in Puntland and south central Somalia, piracy is a concern, but it is not a priority, and their limited resources are better spent on creating and maintaining stability.[254] There are mixed reports of the relationship between al-Shabab and pirates. While there are some reports that al-Shabab has been co-operating to some extent with pirate groups, Sally Healy told us:

The al-Shabab group, which controls a lot of the southern areas and at least the port of Kismayo appears up to now to be against pirates and piracy. The group itself has a very different agenda, and it seems to regard the buccaneering and this manner of raising money as an improper activity that goes against the moralistic and strict version of Islam that it follows.[255]

138.  There are also mixed reports of the views of local communities in Somalia about the piracy that operates from their coastline. There are those who are supportive of the pirates, seeing piracy as just a way of earning a living. Some are "very alive to the big pirate economy that has developed, and [..] quite cynical about it, and feel that their own contribution to it is just one of many that are kind of cashing in on a bit of a bonanza".[256] However, there are also reports of clans moving against pirate groups in their area, because of the negative economic impacts: although some gains from piracy trickle down and support a 'pirate economy', ransoms also cause house price booms and inflation.

139.  There was some disagreement among our witnesses about what measures should be taken to improve the situation in Somalia, and to counter piracy off its coast. World G18 Somalia and Saferworld both mentioned the need to provide employment and development alternatives to piracy, and Sally Healy agreed, noting that the fishing industry had "huge potential" to offer alternative employment. However, Dr Alec D Coutroubis and George Kiourktsoglou were more sceptical, arguing that there was limited opportunity to develop sources of legitimate income, and that "even if there were, the income (per capita) generated by these alternative professional activities would pale compared to the cash generated via piracy ransom payments", and that the solution to piracy lies in a more comprehensive "nation (re)building process".[257]

140.  We note that engagement on the ground in Somalia is difficult at present due to the security situation there, which impedes both the commissioning and monitoring of projects. However, the FCO announced in October 2011 that the Government would commit £2 million to "community engagement and economic development projects" in coastal regions, spreading messages on the dangers of piracy and providing "small scale but high impact programmes to offer real alternatives to piracy". In addition, Henry Bellingham announced he had held preliminary discussions to engage industry partners in "innovative community engagement schemes".[258]

141.  We recommend that the Government develop its engagement with civil society organisations in Somalia to strengthen local responsibility and involvement in international efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. We recommend that in its response to this report, the Government provide more details of the community engagement projects which it announced in October 2011.

224   In September 2011, it was reported that 750,000 were at risk, see "Somalia famine: UN warns of 750,000 deaths", BBC News Online, 5 September 2011. In November, the prediction was reduced to 250,000 see "Somali famine zones downgraded by UN", BBC News Online, 18 November 2011. For more information see: UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, fsnau.org. Back

225   Q 195 and "UNHCR issues warning over treatment of Somali refugees", United Nations Refugee Agency, unhcr.org Back

226   For four years in a row, Somalia has topped the Foreign Policy Magazine's Failed States Index. See foreignpolicy.com. Back

227   African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM. On 30 September 2011 the UN Security Council extended AMISOM's mandate to October 2012 and urged states to increase its numbers to the authorised strength of 12,000. SC/10399 Back

228   Q 92 Back

229   See "1993: US forces killed in Somali gun battle", BBC News Online, 4 October 2003, bbc.co.uk. Back

230   Under the Kampala peace accord, agreed in June 2011, elections of the president and speaker were postponed for a year from August 2011. Back

231   "Don't aim too high", The Economist, 15 October 2011, economist.com Back

232   Q 196 Back

233   Q 313 Back

234   Q 196 Back

235   See, for instance, "France to support Kenya's incursion into Somalia", BBC News Online, 25 October 2011, bbc.co.uk. Back

236   International Development Committee, Working Effectively in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States: DRC and Rwanda, Ev 75-76 Back

237   Agreed on 25 January 2010, and launched in May 2010. Back

238   European Union External Action Service, 'EU ENGAGEMENT IN SOMALIA', April 2011, EU Somalia/12  Back

239   EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta, 'Media Information', 21 November 2011, eunavfor.eu  Back

240   UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 'Somalia: Famine & Drought, Situation Report No. 24', 29 November 2011. The report notes that the Somalia Consolidated Appeal 2011 is one of the most comprehensively funded humanitarian appeals.  Back

241   UNOCHA, 'Humanitarian Funding Analysis for Somalia: Drought and Famine Scale-Up' August 2011 Back

242   Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency ReliefCoordinator, Valerie Amos, Press Briefing, 14 December 2011 Back

243   Ev 69 Back

244   Henry Bellingham, statement at the United Nations Security Council Somalia Open Debate, 11 March 2011 Back

245   Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Mayor's banquet speech, 14 November 2011 Back

246   Ev 71 Back

247   DfID Bilateral Aid Review Results: Country Summaries Back

248   HC Deb, 3 November 2011, Cols 790-91W  Back

249   Foreign Affairs Committee, Developments in UK Foreign Policy, oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary on 16 March 2011, HC(2010-12) 881-i  Back

250   Ev 69. See written evidence for further details and a breakdown of donations.  Back

251   Ev 116, paras 11 and 14 and Ev 125, paras 3 (f) and 5 Back

252   HL Deb, 9 December 2011, col WA204 Back

253   Q 195 Back

254   Q 196 Back

255   Q 196 Back

256   Q 210 Back

257   Ev 123, paras 5.4 and 5.5 Back

258   Henry Bellingham MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, speech to the Chamber of Shipping, 12 Oct 2011 Back

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Prepared 5 January 2012