Piracy in East and West Africa

For many years, economists and political scientists worldwide have predicted that Africa will soon become the focus of economic and demographic activity. Its population is rising at an unprecedented rate and it is home to several of the world's fastest-developing economies. Furthermore, growing Russian and Chinese investment in the region is transforming Africa into a hub of business activity. However, as the notion of Africa becoming one of the most important players in the international community rises, so do concerns about how present challenges might jeopardize such a future.

Piracy, for example, is a long-standing security threat across the continent. While Hollywood's portrayal of pirates has caused us to desensitize them and disregard them as a serious threat, pirates are still present today and threaten to isolate the African continent. They continue to undermine the region's maritime security by dominating the majority of bodies of water around West and East Africa.

The greatest concern that piracy and maritime crime pose to Africa is that they cause significant economic losses. Pirates in West and East Africa are notorious for erecting commercial blockades to disrupt supply networks. In fact, pirate organizations are expected to cost West African governments more than $500 million every year. By doing so, these criminal organizations cause a rise in insurance prices for products and services, which are then passed on to customers.

Worse, piracy is also the source of oil theft and trafficking. As a result, many oil-rich countries in the region are at a disadvantage in comparison to other petroleum exporting powerhouses; for example, Nigeria, Africa's top oil exporting country, loses over $1 billion every month due to oil theft and fraud. In a nutshell, pirates have taken control of the majority of economic operations in West and East Africa, including but not limited to shipping, port facilities, tourism, fishing, oil and mineral extraction, all of which encourage economic growth.

In addition to causing significant economic harm, piracy in Africa also hinders marine movement. Pirates make it hard for commercial lines to reach certain destinations by creating blockades on specific locations, marginalizing those that live surrounded by piracy. As a result, many people in the country's western and eastern parts are left without food and other essentials, not only because trade channels cannot reach them, but also because pirates control the distribution of products in many coastal villages. Consider Somalia, where the people have not only been alienated by conflict but have also been left to suffer because food aid has been stolen by pirates.

Furthermore, by reducing marine transportation, piracy has decreased tourism and foreign visitors, limiting intercontinental exchanges and decreasing Africa's worldwide influence. Multiple cruise ships, for example, have documented incidents with pirate groups, reducing demand for leisure tourism in the region. Similarly, the number of persons looking to sail Seychelles has plummeted, impacting the country's two most vital sources of revenue, tourism and fishing. Indeed, in addition to oil and product theft, ransom is a key source of revenue for pirates. By capturing seafarers or boarding tourist vessels, marine criminals have been able to exploit their victims' terror by demanding money in return for safety.

Lastly, the fear of piracy in West and East Africa continues to inflict a "generational curse" on children who live near pirate-controlled territories. Not only are pirates typically young and begin as children, but many individuals regard piracy as a family enterprise. Consequently, many pirates begin as young fishermen who are tempted to turn to maritime crime when confronted with the repercussions of inequitable institutions, such as a lack of access to school and unemployment.

Piracy prevents these young people from achieving educational or personal development goals. In other words, it traps future generations in an unbreakable cycle of reliance on crime for survival. Worse, because anti-piracy measures have been so ineffective, many communities revere pirates as community leaders and collectively encourage youngsters to join them. After all, in many countries, pirates give more rewards than governments, and joining them is a better option than avoiding crime.

The purpose of this essay is to underline that piracy remains a threat to the global economy, but it does not receive the attention it deserves as it is mostly concentrated in marginalized places. It is past time for us to open our eyes and see that Africa is on track to become the most significant hotspot of human activity in the next few years, which only adds to the urgency of dealing with the region's issues now before they worsen. Similarly, we must recognize that piracy has survived owing to imbalances and injustices in the continent's legislative architecture. After all, we must recognize piracy for what it is: the effect of failing to stimulate job development or education in impoverished areas.


Illustration by Tereza Životská


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