End Somali poverty to end piracy: UN ambassador

Increased security and economic growth have led to decrease in attacks since 2012, says the UN ambassador to Mogadishu while on a visit to Abu Dhabi last week.

Nick Kay, the UN’s ambassador to Somalia, met UAE officials in Abu Dhabi last week. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Increased security measures, development of a justice system and economic growth have greatly curbed the threat that Somali piracy once posed.

But the country still needs help to provide alternatives for Somalis to deter them from activities such as piracy and terrorism, said Nick Kay, the UN ambassador to Somalia.

Mr Kay was in Abu Dhabi last week to meet UAE officials.

“We shouldn’t forget that the failed state that Somalia had become allowed piracy to flourish off the coast, which cost the world economy billions,” Mr Kay said.

The hostages taken and people killed amounted to a human tragedy as well, he added.

“So there are good, hard-nosed reasons why the international community in general and the UAE as part of that should be interested in making sure Somalia recovers and is a prosperous, peaceful and stable state,” he said.

Piracy began to flourish among Somalis amid civil war and economic strife, costing at least US$5.7 billion (Dh20.9bn) in global trade in 2012, according to the non-profit organisation Oceans Beyond Piracy.

But the number of attacks have drastically decreased, and not one has been successful since 2012, Mr Kay said.

The UAE most recently pledged Dh183 million in aid to Somalia in May, after providing Dh220m over the previous four years. The country is the most prominent among those giving aid from the Arabian Gulf states, said Mr Kay.

The UAE has also been a main supporter of maritime security measures such as the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which aims to combat piracy and illegal fishing.

“There is a simple humanitarian requirement to help some of the poorest, most suffering people – probably in the world – but we shouldn’t also forget that Somalia has continued to pose a security risk to the region,” Mr Kay said.

“I get the sense that there is definitely a rising curve of UAE interest, and that’s very welcome.”

Infrastructure such as roads are sorely needed, but the country also has three major problems to confront, Mr Kay said.

Ten per cent of children born in Somalia will not live to see their first birthday, half the population is less than 18 years old and two thirds of young people under 30 are unemployed, he said.

Despite the problems, the country has potential in terms of its size and developing industries.

Fisheries in particular could be promising, with Somalia having the largest coastline on the continent, Mr Kay said. Ports, electricity, telecommunications, agriculture, farming, livestock, and fruits and vegetables also have potential for growth.

“It could be quite a prosperous country,” Mr Kay said.

Earlier this month, Dubai maritime company DP World organised a panel on Somalia to discuss ways to build the country’s economy and create jobs, as part of a trend in efforts to focus counter-piracy measures on growth.

“Marine piracy grew directly out of the 20 years of turmoil in Somalia and it will disappear only once Somalia’s young people have an alternative future – one that allows them to not just survive but to thrive in safety, feed themselves, raise a family, participate in the community,” said Mohammed Sharaf, chief executive of DP World, the state news agency Wam reported.

Piracy attacks fell from 176 in 2011 to 36 in 2012 and was down to just seven last year.

The UAE sentenced 10 Somali pirates to life in prison in May 2012 for hijacking an Emirati merchant ship, the MV Arrilah, in April the previous year, as it sailed in the Arabian Sea en route to Jebel Ali from Australia. Special forces captured the pirates 30 hours after the hijacking.

Somalia and the UAE re-established diplomatic ties last year, with the country opening its embassy in Somalia after 22 years of closure. Last month, the UAE appointed Mohammed Al Hammadi as ambassador to Somalia.

Out of the major donors to Somalia, only the UAE, the UK and Turkey have thus far opened embassies there, Mr Kay said.