Baraawe, 16 November 2009 (Somalilandpress) – To outsiders Somalia is a remote and forsaken land, drenched in blood, clogged by diseased refugees and doomed to irreversible destruction and hopelessness.

But one town in my country is a seaside oasis of pleasure, tranquillity and glamorous beaches — as well as cardboard boxes crammed full of hard United States dollars.

This is Baraawe, south of Mogadishu, in Somalia’s southeast corner, home to daring bands of sea robbers, deceptive fishing canoes and, overlooking the port from a distance, heavily armed foreign frigates.

The town is the ultimate movie-style fantasy; an Eldorado in a troubled land where the pirates are heroes, distributing in Robin Hood fashion the wealth they crudely accrue at sea.

They might be “heartless terrorists and renegades” to the outside world, but the mothers in Baraawe dream of giving their daughters in marriage to the pirates. No wonder then that pirate weddings have become hugely popular and semi-official attractions on the town’s weekly calendar.

“Welcome to Baraawe: land of the connected, land of the playful” reads the huge Arabic sign on the road into the town. And for a moment when you arrive you have to pinch yourself to remember that you’re still in Somalia.

There are no potholes, no crumbling roads, no broken TV and cellphone towers. The Italianate seaside villas are lavishly painted, not pockmarked by bullets. The town has become the fourth pirate capital of Somalia.

Multimillion-dollar ransoms have transformed it in just five years from a forgotten fishing village to a thriving commercial centre selling expensive watches, motorbikes, electrical gadgets and even swine flu vaccine, as one merchant-smuggler boasts.

Speakers from seaside verandas blast Bon Jovi hits and the streets are crammed with people buying the freshest tuna fish at the beachside market.

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Cellphone towers and even an internet kiosk give a semblance of quasi-governmental order, provided by a mix of clan warlords and heavily armed pirates.

The pirates are ambitious young men in their early 20s, former fishermen and well-trained ex-police officers — and they’re the talk of the town. Young boys barely into their teens see no sense in seeking even a basic education; neither do they want to follow most Somalis into exile by making the great trek to Kenya or dhow-boating across the Horn of Africa to Dubai.

Talk to them on the streets of Baraawe and their eyes brighten up as they describe counting “the greens”. The area has one of the heaviest concentrations of small ammunition, rocket grenades and heavy machine guns in Somalia — yet peace and tranquillity prevail in Baraawe.

“‘Instead of turning onm the throats of our fellow Somalis like they do in Mogadishu, here our guns bring the wealth and secure the town,” boasts “Terrenco”, a self-styled pirate “colonel”, who says he has 12 years’ experience in the business.

Throughout the day you can see boatbuilders matching the industriousness and craftmanship for which Sicily is renowned: they’re making a smart killing by rushing to satisfy their clients impatiently waiting to enter the sea.

The cash-intoxicated pirates willingly part with $8 000 (about R60 000) for a small kayak — a pittance for them considering that one Dutch shipping and freight company recently handed over €800 000 (almost R9-million) in ransom.

So Baraawe’s mothers urge their budding teenage girls to marry the buccaneers. Not that the girls themselves need much motivation: going down the aisle with a pirate guarantees endless food on the table, luxury dresses and saving your family from starvation and destitution.

And pirates as young as 20 have up to five wives: one excited buccaneer boat driver recently boasted about the $3 000 (just more than R22 000) he’d forked out for his fourth and newest wife.

If you happen to see a pirate wedding procession on a Saturday in Baraawe, you could be forgiven for thinking that a Western VIP must be in town.

Outrageously shiny new Porsche Cayennes are sandwiched by pricey Harley Davidson diesel motorbikes manned by excited pirates brandishing advanced weaponry in a defiant and triumphant show of macho-man pride.

It’s a simple show of pirate brotherhood on both sea and land whenever one of them ties the knot. The sea dollars provide lusty feasts of beef, Thai rice and potatoes freely for the whole town.

You might be jolted for a moment by Kalashnikov rifle fire cracking through the wedding tents, but laughing wedding ushers will reassuringly calm you with a bottle of Bells Scotch whisky. The sound of guns, you learn, is routine when pirates marry: a 17-bullet salute is the sea-venturing tradition.

When the time for presenting the wedding gifts arrives, the role of pirate dollars in oiling Baraawe’s economy during the global cashcrunch becomes even clearer. Wildly smiling pirates — young and old — outdo one another in throwing flashy Blackberrys, six-CD hi-fis and gold necklaces into the gift dishes.

Excited (and intoxicated) men in camouflage kit dance with wads of new greenbacks on their heads before dropping their loot spectacularly into the dishes. Her Majesty’s Chancellor of the Exchequer would turn green and hot with envy.

Perhaps the pseudo peace-building summits held in plush foreign capitals to seek solutions to Somalia’s woes should take a tour of Baraawe.

How unbridled fun and ease thrive as an oasis within atrocity, horror and death would at least make for some crazy report-backs from delegates.

By: Rafik Muhammad Dhana

Source: Mail & Guardian Online


  1. This is a fiction, first of all Barawe is under total control of the fanatic Shababs and they will never allow people to do things freely the way this writer described. and there was no actual fact to date linking pirate to this part of Somalia and this port in particular.Anybody can write and say anything they feel like on the internet, so what make this story different?

  2. This comment is in response to the article "Romance of the ransom" that originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian Online on November 13, 2009.

    I am still trying to figure out what Mr. Rafik Muhammad Dhana's motive is in writing this article.  Not only is the information in the article totally fake and ludicrous, it seeks to denigrate and defame the peace-loving people of Baraawe (Brava, Somalia).  

    The unarmed and helpless people of Baraawe have been living under terror since 1991, which is a fact that has been verified by Amnesty International.  

    Today, Baraawe is under the occupation of al-Shabab.  They have a strict interpretation of Islamic law.  Music is one of the things that is prohibited.  So it is very perplexing to read Mr. Rafik write that "speakers from seaside verandas blast Bon Jovi hits."  Then, what about an Islamist group handing out “a bottle of Bells Scotch whiskey”?  A joke, right?

    The International Maritime Organization in East Africa has stated that there are no connections between the pirates and the al-Shabab group that control Baraawe.  Mr. Rafik's claims fly in the face of all the facts on the ground.

    While the al-Shabab have repaired some small areas of Baraawe, the town is decaying and crumbling, and the mothers and children of Baraawe are destitute. 

    Mr. Rafik has woven a fantastic tale that is hard to verify by the undiscerning and the gullible.  A tale of intoxicated pirates, lavish weddings, seaside villas, cardboard boxes full of US$, Harley Davidsons, and Porsche Cayennes.  The only thing missing is sex. Maybe even that is not missing when you read about five wives! It’s a fictional tale in familiar surroundings. The definition of a tall tale.

    The mothers of Baraawe, that Mr. Rafik is talking about, have been raped and know what oppression is.  To add insult to injury, the victims are being victimized again by Mr. Rafik's recklessness and preposterous allegations. I am outraged and incensed by his slanderous portrayal of the people of Baraawe. His claim of having recently visited family in Brava is also a figment of his twisted imagination. 

    In pursuit of his fifteen minutes of fame, he has succeeded in duping the Mail & Guardian.  He has also somehow succeeded in denting the reputation of the people of Baraawe as can be seen by the comments of some of the readers on the Mail & Guardian website.

    What happened to the Mail & Guardian’s editorial scrutiny? Or is there any?