Somali piracy as non-state governance

Chris Blattman links to a fascinating new article by Anja Shortland and Federico Varese on the governance structures of Somali pirates.  Key points:

This article argues that gangs, clans, mafias and insurgencies are, like states, forms of governance. This insight is applied to the case of Somali piracy and the article explores whether protectors of piracy were clearly distinct from pirates; and to what extent protectors coordinated their activities across the Somali coastland. It is shown that clan elders and Islamist militias facilitated piracy by protecting hijacked ships in their anchorages and resolving conflicts within and between pirate groups. Protection arrangements operated across clans, as illustrated by the free movement of hijacked ships along the coastline and the absence of re-hijacking after ransoms were paid. Piracy protection can be thought of as part of a continuum of protection arrangements that goes from mafias to legitimate states. The article concludes by highlighting the implications of the findings for the debate on state-building and organised crime.

Non-state governance continues to strike me as one of the most consistently interesting topics studied in comparative politics today.  Thomas Risse’s 2013 book on the topic is a good place to start.

2 thoughts on “Somali piracy as non-state governance

  1. It seems obvious that the routine use of organized violence in daily life and making a living on the part of individuals and small groups would necessitate larger coercive units to regulate it. One is simply observing the way in which states were created in the first place and the hidden but intrinsic violence of mature states.


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