Some people blame the semi-autonomous region
of Puntland for outsourcing President Abdullahi Yusuf to the national
scene after he pitted sub-clans against each other, ditched the results
of democratic presidential elections, and threatened the stability of
But I disagree with
that charge; Insofar as President Yusuf is being foisted to the
national scene by tactful Ethiopian hands, he has always espoused an
ambition to become
Somalia’s president, irrespective of how he gets there.
That said, I think that Yusuf’s bastion, Puntland, is increasingly becoming a poster child for
umpteen problems. Earlier this year, I tried to travel to Puntland to
investigate the mysterious piracy and the tragic human trafficking
business, both of which found a safe-haven in that part of the country.
Everyone I know
warned me against entering Puntland’s ethnic territory. For that
reason, I retreated to conduct a satellite research, using telephone
conversations and first-person accounts, among others.
What I found was rather baffling, to say the least.
Piracy in Puntland
Not surprisingly, the
official line among Puntland’s government ministers was that “piracy is
a global problem that found headway in
porous waters in recent years.” One after another, they told me that
Puntland isn’t tooled to combat this problem, because pirates are
well-armed, well-financed and multi-jurisdictional. (That’s to say that
pirates operate in places like Haradheere in central
But surprisingly, and
below the official line, there’s a wide belief among Puntlanders that
“pirates [they don’t even use this word!] are heroes, because they are
Somalia’s unguarded resources, looted by international companies.”
Quite the contrary,
so many people, including former government officials and journalists
told me that pirates have deep connections in the highest ranks in
Puntland’s regime. In fact, people could list names of government
ministers whose own militia are the pirates.
Few weeks ago, when
pirates kidnapped a Japanese vessel outside
international waters (which is quite routine, and, remarkably,
counter-argument to those who say that pirates are “guarding” our
and French naval ships cornered the pirates near Boosaaso, the business
capital of Puntland. The pirates, I was told, were able to disembark
from the kidnapped ship every night to chew Khat and hang out with
friends and family members, while other “substitute” pirates replaced
ordeal ended with the Japanese tanker being released unharmed, and
pirates getting away with an undisclosed amount of ransom. The pirates’
front-men are senior government officials, who typically convince
kidnapped ships to pay ransom (usually less then than pirates
originally demanded). I found that this scenario occurred no less than
three dozen times in the last few years.
true, I also found, that pirates are “multi-jurisdictional.” But
sources confirmed to me that Haradheere-based gangs are no more than
“holders” of the ships seized by Puntland pirates, whenever there’s an
internal dispute among Puntland ring leaders. As such, only two or
three times have pirates actually “held” a ship in Haradheere for the
In addition to
piracy, human trafficking is pandemic in Puntland. More than 35,000
people have perished since 1991 trying to cross the short, but
dangerous distance between Boosaaso and
Yemen, using makeshift rafts.
Even back in the days
when President Yusuf was the president of Puntland, the administration
there made a noise that it will crack down on traffickers, whenever the
international attention was zeroing on the issue.
anything has been done. In fact, human traffickers, who like pirates
have deep connections to the corridors of power, have flourished. In
Boosaaso and nearby towns, journalists and other sources sent me the
photos of the homes of well-known human traffickers and pirates, whose
villas and latest-model Land Cruisers have dazzled me.
Last week, when Gwen Le Gouil, a French journalist tried to do an investigative report on human trafficking,
he was kidnapped for nine grueling days.
Remarkably, he was seized on his way to Shimbiraale, the infamous
village known for its human and weapons traffickers. Insiders told me
that his kidnappers were Puntland intelligence officers associated with
both human traffickers and pirates.
Here’s the evidence to back that claim:
First, a day after
Mr. Le Gouil was kidnapped his captors took his photos, brandishing
their AK47’s behind him. The digital photos were distributed to Somali
media outlets, to maximize the damage and instill fear on foreign
journalists trying to get to the bottom of this murky business. Now,
who would believe that everyday kidnappers carry digital cameras and
presumably a laptop with them?
I, for one, don’t buy it.
Secondly, instead of
handing this as a security issue, the Puntland administration delegated
“elders” to the scene. Again, these are “front-men” for the human
traffickers, who wouldn’t want their stories to be broadcast globally.
The “elders” came back with a rather fascinating verdict: They held an
impromptu press conference, in which they told foreign agencies that
the French embassy in
Nairobi has to compensate the kidnappers before Mr. Le Gouil could be released unharmed.
Left with no options, a diplomat from the French embassy in
precipitously flew to Boosaaso to finalize that unholy deal. God knows
how much the kidnappers pocketed, but Le Gouil was released on
Charge the victim!
If you think that was
the end of Mr. Le Gouil’s ordeal, you’re terribly wrong. The Puntland
administration actually announced that they “
will prosecute Le Gouil for illegally entering [our] sovereign nation!”
This official threat
forced the French government to hastily agree to pay an undisclosed
ransom to the kidnappers. Furthermore, with the admission of President
Adde Musse Hirsi, the kidnappers, driving a Land Cruiser, dropped Mr.
Le Gouil at a major hotel in downtown Boosaaso. Conveniently, one
Puntland minister told the VOA Somali Service that Mr. Le Gouil was
“pardoned for entering the country illegally.”
Also speaking to the
VOA Somali Service on Wednesday, President Adde Musse admitted that
none of the kidnappers was arrested, let alone be charged. Instead, he
unleashed a barrage of attacks against “Puntland enemies” for
perpetrating all these problems. Pressed for more reasonable answers,
he retreated and blamed his former ally and former Minister of
Fisheries, Said Mohamed Raage, for “some of the problems.”
Sadly, President Hirsi didn’t elaborate on whether Mr. Raage is a former minister-pirate-trafficker.
On this same day,
two MSF humanitarian workers were again abducted
in plain sight and in the middle of Boosaaso. Adde Musse, at it again,
said this time the security apparatus would handle the case. The
kidnappers, at it again, took the victims to Shimbiraale, the same
location they took Mr. Le Gouil, according to media accounts.
So which one would you believe? Some say the two aren’t mutually exclusive!
Adding an insult to the injury, the apocalyptic Transitional Federal Government revoked MSF Belgium’s license to operate in
on the same day when two of its foreign employees were kidnapped. I
didn’t know that the TFG could “revoke” a license, per se, but I can
draw my own conclusions about the interesting coincidence.
Once again, the TFG
is inseparable from Puntland, and the two operate in an often
conspicuous fashion. But that’s beside the point. Puntland, for all
practical purposes, is translating its relatively stable ethnic enclave
to either attack its not-so-ethnic neighbor,
Somaliland, or to groom pirates and human traffickers.
That’s on top of
claiming an extraordinary power to unilaterally exploiting oil and
other national resources at the expense of the nation. One wonders: Is
Puntland flying solo to the point of no return?
Said Shiiq, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and a consultant with international relief organizations. He can be reached at