Create jobs not jails to fight maritime crime, says Somaliland's counter-piracy chief
If there's one thing that the Somaliland government wants us – the international community – to know about maritime crime and the country's future economic stability, it's this:
"Whether it's on our waters or on the waters of our neighbours in Somalia, as long as there are young Somali-speaking men in the Horn of Africa who have got access to arms and do not have any means of earning a living, the waters of the Horn of Africa will not be safe."
Mohamed Osman Ahmed is the Executive Director of Somaliland's Counter Piracy Coordination (CPC) Office and is leading efforts in the country to eliminate maritime crime through coastal development programmes, local governance, and job creation.
Speaking exclusively to Defence IQ, Ahmed said that while piracy off the coast of Somaliland has fallen dramatically since 2012, there are other maritime threats that must now be addressed in a similar way. The root cause of all maritime crime is the same, so Ahmed believes all efforts must be targeted towards confronting the issues at source.
"One of the approaches that can solve the piracy problem is to create job opportunities for people in Somaliland and our neighbours in Somalia," he said.
The fisheries industry in the country collapsed during the war in the 90s but now Somaliland is working to restore this vital trade through new infrastructure and capacity building with assistance from its international partners.
"Somaliland is trying to rehabilitate the fishery sector," said Ahmed.
"There is an enormous effort from the private sector but we would like the training, the equipment, the knowhow and the financial resources to completely rehabilitate our fishery sector and we need international assistance to achieve this.
"The Berbera Maritime and Fisheries Academy needs more support and we need to train marine biologists.
"We need cooling stations along the coast of Somaliland so fishermen can cool and freeze the fish they catch at sea too.
"The entire fisheries sector needs investment and that's where we should concentrate our efforts."
While piracy has declined in recent years, tackling the sharp rise of illegal fishing, human trafficking and arms smuggling in the Horn of Africa has demanded a more focused approach. Establishing new authorities, which are backed up by robust and clear legislation, is one of the key elements to Somaliland's strategy to help deter maritime crime with Ahmed confirming that the creation of a Maritime Law Enforcement Agency is in currently underway and in the draft stage.
"It has been translated from Somali with the assistance of EUCAP Nestor, which has also helped draft the legislation.
"We expect the Maritime Law Enforcement Agency to be in place by early 2015 to help protect our waters against piracy and illegal fishing.
"Also, there's an EU and UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] joint action plan in which we're training maritime law enforcement officers for the Coast Guard. The joint action plan sets out that by the end of 2016 Somaliland should have a Maritime Law Enforcement Agency or Coast Guard that will be able to police our waters and conduct search and rescue operations. In fact it will fight all kinds of maritime crime whether it's piracy, illegal fishing, arms smuggling or human trafficking or any other related maritime crime."
While the rule of law is a vital element in the wider interests of governance, Ahmed is clear that community engagement and capacity building will be far more effective against the rise of maritime crime in the long-term than deterrence.
"Law enforcement alone cannot stop maritime crime happening in our region," he said. "We need to complement it with coastal development programmes and job creation within the region."
The Djibouti Code of Conduct was signed in 2009 to address the threat of piracy that was crippling the economy and free movement of vessels off the East African coast. The agreement encouraged the exchange of maritime information and intelligence between the signatory nations in a bid to boost collaboration and undermine the pirates. Together with international support and an influx of military task forces operating in the Gulf of Aden, the Djibouti Code of Conduct has been successful in quelling the tide of a piracy epidemic.
But times have changed.
As Mohamed Osman Ahmed highlighted, illegal fishing, human trafficking and arms smuggling – where "illegal fishing is [now] the main threat to the stability of Somaliland and the region" – are responsible for draining resources today in the same way that piracy did a few years ago. Ahmed wants to see a new agreement with a wider scope that accounts for all contemporary maritime threats, not just piracy.
"I think the Djibouti Code of Conduct needs to be revisited and reviewed to include cooperation on all maritime crime."
Capacity building, job creation and good governance are vital, but doing so in collaboration with neighbouring countries and international partners is the critical point.
"We need to understand that maritime crime is transnational crime," said Ahmed.
"It needs the cooperation of all the countries in the region including Somalia, which on our side would be Puntland, Somaliland, Djibouti, Yemen, Oman and those in the Western Indian Ocean.
"There should be some sort of platform on which to share information in order to deter and stop maritime crime happening in the region.
"No single government and no single country can solve all of these issues, it has to be done within the framework of regional cooperation. It needs the cooperation of the region."