The protector’s choice. An application of protection theory to Somali piracy

Anja Shortland and Federico Varese

Published in: British Journal of Criminology Advance Access published July 2, 2014

What explains the variation in piracy along the coasts of Somalia? We answer this question by drawing upon Protection Theory and a new data set of piracy incidents. First, we make a distinction between pirates and protectors of piracy (authorities and local clans). We show that authorities offer shelter and protection to pirates in areas remote from trade routes and when they face challenges over political control. Theoretically, the paper identifies the moment when a protector decides to switch from protecting crime to protecting legitimate trading activities; it also highlights a preserve effect of electoral democracy in unstable contexts, namely the strong incentives to rely on organized criminals to fund electoral competition and secessionist aspirations. We conclude by offering comparative remarks on the trajectory of the nation-building project in Somalia and suggest that building infrastructures, fostering regional trade and more generally providing alternative sources of income to local communities is the best way to fight piracy.

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