Jay Bahadur hit on a novel way to break into journalism: he wrote the defacto rulers of Puntland, a tribal fiefdom in Somalia where piracy has been rife. President Farole, whose authority is not recognised by any other government, was happy for a chance to give his side of the picture to the world media, and delegated one of his own sons to be Bahadur's bodyguard all of the time he was in Somalia. And one can well understand why he would: Farole has to maintain order in Puntland on a budget of $20 million per annum. Were it not for the inherent stability of the medieval clan system (which still holds in Puntland, unlike in the South of Somalia), his job would be impossible.
It seems that Farole's desire to suppress piracy is genuine. Legitimate enterprises will not create the investment Puntland needs until piracy is eliminated. And most of the population are against it: little if any of the ransoms paid to pirates benefits anyone beyond the closer relatives of the pirates. And even then, the amounts the pirates get for risking their lives is derisory: the luckiest ones might make enough to build a respectable house and buy a Land Cruiser, but the money doesn't last long. The pirates Bahadur interviewed were among the more successful ones, and as soon as they got their hundred dollars, they were off like a shot to buy some more khat (the local cocaine substitute).
Bahadur has really done his research. In fact, the amounts paid for ransom are chickenfeed. It simply isn't worth it for shipping companies to hire mercenary guards. Bahadur outlines some fairly simple measures which would ameliorate the situation, but the insistence of the international community on recognising the toothless Trans-National Government in Djibouti prevents them from supporting democratically-elected leaders like President Farole in Puntland.
One is left with a certain sympathy for the pirates. With rare exceptions, they don't kill or hurt people. Somalia is a land without hope, and piracy is one of the very few ways a poor boy can get anything at all. Pirates often leave to attack the shipping lanes in the middle of the Indian Ocean, far away from their bases--and their boats are so small that can't carry enough fuel to get back. If they don't capture a ship, they will most likely die, and they know it. But even then, becoming a pirate is an unrealistic dream for most Somalis: there aren't that many people in Somalia with enough money to finance and inflatable skiff, a powerful outboard, and a few Kalashnikovs, so the competition to get a coveted pirate's job is intense.
Despite a few leaden metaphors, this book is well-written. It jumps about in time quite a lot, but it isn't hard to follow. Even though piracy might not really deserve the column-inches it gets, it's still a riveting story well told.