Western journalists are trained to frame African problems in familiar tropes. The mania this month over â€œSomali piratesâ€ reflects an old media passion for romanticizing thievery in a part of the world where gross inequalities indeed cry out for action, sometimes any action. The pirates, whom are hijacking oil tankers and ships in the waters off Somalia and Kenya, are rarely portrayed as real people, responding to incentives, however perverse, and rational expectations. In a rare departure last week, the Guardianâ€™s Xan Rice, based in Nairobi and ably assisted by a Somali correspondent, provided a glimpse into the mind of a pirate. An excerpt makes riveting reading, not the least because of the Somaliâ€™s matter-of-fact recitation of his life choices carries an aroma of authenticity:
â€œI started to hijack these fishing boats in 1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our first captured ship we got $300,000. With the money we bought AK-47s and small speedboats. I donâ€™t know exactly how many ships I have captured since then but I think it is about 60. Sometimes when we are going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick and some die.
â€œWe give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms. To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we use a rope ladder to get on board. We count the crew and find out their nationalities. After checking the cargo we ask the captain to phone the owner and say that have seized the ship and will keep it until the ransom is paid.â€Our community thinks we are pirates getting illegal money. But we consider ourselves heroes running away from poverty. We donâ€™t see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea.
â€œWith foreign warships now on patrol we have difficulties. But we are getting new boats and weapons. We will not stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.â€