Somali youth living in different parts of Nairobi are being urged not to become pirates through the work of a Kenya conference that is employing unique techiniques to prevent kids from falling prey to the lure of quick and big money on the high seas.
An on-stage drama entertains a roomful of about 300 young Somalis at this community center in Eastleigh, Nairobi. The young men and women are learning through this play and lectures about the dangers of becoming a pirate.
Abdullahi Gedi, 24, says he once thought about becoming a pirate.
“As we hear from the news that the pirates have captured a ship and therefore the ransom is, let me say $35 million, that is a lot of money in my head. As a youth, I see getting that millions of dollars in my age. That is a long time that I am going to serve to get this amount of money, so therefore, if I join the pirates, I can get it easily,” he said.
But Gedi says he knows there is a flip-side to the supposed glamour and riches that makes piracy dangerous, unethical, and punishable by jail, maiming, or death.
Ahmed Mohamed Halane is chairman of the Somali Data Information on Piracy Organization, a Mogadishu-based anti-piracy group. He says most of the Somali young men recruited from Kenya are taken to the coast as interpreters, because many Somali youth in Kenya are highly literate.
"From 2008, let me answer from that year," he said. "We have seen and visited the coastal villages where pirates operate and have seen five people being recruited from Kenya and being taken back to Somali coast. When I come to the last year, 2011, the number has increased. That number we have seen, and people we have met along the coast line of Somalia, have been 35 in 2011."
Conference participant Gedi describes how this is done. “Somalis are related, and therefore this thing can be airborne. If I come to you and I tell you, I have a connection of piracy, and therefore if I take you to the pirates, you will not be rejected. This is the disease we are fearing that our youth can fall in,” he said.
For 22-year-old Naima Musa, the pirates have damaged her reputation and the reputation of other ethnic Somalis living in Kenya, making it harder for them to be accepted by the wider Kenyan population.
“When you are taking a bus, they will tell you ‘Somali pirate.” When you go to schools, you are different from others. When you want to take a passport or any ID they say you are still a Somali even though you are born in this place. So I feel so bad when others tell you you are this or that,” she said.
The conference was organized by the group Youth United for Social Mobilization. Speakers included a Somali Member of Parliament and a prominent Muslim cleric.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates there are 3,500 Somalis working as pirates, with an estimated 1,000 Somalis in custody for the crime of piracy in about 20 countries.
One Earth Future Foundation says that in 2011, 31 ransoms were paid to Somali pirates, totalling around $160 million. Somali pirates attacked a record 237 ships, and successfully hijacked 28 of these. The foundation says the total cost of piracy last year was almost $7 billion in security, higher insurance premiums and military operations.