In a State of Exception: National and International Perceptions of Piracy in Somalia

  • Toke Andreas Wolff


This article investigates how international actors respond to piracy in Somalia. It is argued that the root causes of piracy must be traced back to the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime in the early 1990s, which resulted in an escalation of foreign illegal activity in Somali waters. This caused Somali entrepreneurs to set up a taxing system that eventually escalated into organized piracy. Simultaneously, the international response to the issue of piracy has gained momentum as an important element in the ‘global war on terror’ and international political actors have increasingly approached piracy as a security concern rather than a development issue. Such discourse legitimizes a radicalization of the Western response motivated by an increasingly militarized and ‘by-all-means-necessary’ approach resulting from laws that effectively suspend basic human rights. The article argues that international response towards piracy in Somalia thus serves as a significant example of modern totalitarianism as described by Giorgio Agamben, where entire categories of citizens are considered incapable of being fully integrated into the political system. In terms of reducing the number of piracy incidents, this strategy has proven successful. But simultaneously it protected important members of the global political elite to from facing judgment on their responsibility of the depletion of resources in Somalia.


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