Somali Pirates Take The Money And Run, To Kenya Working the waters off East Africa, pirates in Somalia raked in a record $90 million in ransoms last year, a sign that efforts to stop them both at home and abroad are not working. Much of that cash ends up in Nairobi.

Somali Pirates Take The Money And Run, To Kenya

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Nick Wadhams follows the money trail across the border into Kenya.


NAAN: (Rapping) She got a gun, but could have been a model or physician. So what you know about the pirates terrorize the ocean?

NICK WADHAMS: Ordinary Somalis without jobs see the pirate trade as a way to put food on the table, and piracy shows no sign of slowing down if you judge by Nairobi.


WADHAMS: And that leads to another common sound in the neighborhood. New buildings are going up in Eastleigh. A broker who identifies himself as Willy gives me a tour of the buildings that he says are being built with piracy money. He got his start forging documents for illegal Somali immigrants years ago. Now, he says, he helps pirates buy property.

WILLY: I have friends, most are agents whom I operate with. They tell me this is piracy money, Willy. Take the advantage of the situation, man. This money is her. You can always make some profits out of it.

WADHAMS: Kenya is seen as a good place for the pirates because it is a relatively stable country. Yet, at the same time, its legal system is lax and corruption is high. That means that it's easy to bring illicit money in and out of the country without much notice.


WADHAMS: Unidentified Man #1: (unintelligible)

WADHAMS: Unidentified Man #1: No. Just go to the bureau.

WADHAMS: Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

WADHAMS: Unidentified Man #3: (Through translator) They believe that there is no government in Somalia, so they use piracy money to buy the firearms. They buy property so that even if things go bad in Somalia, they have property where they can get money from.

WADHAMS: I meet a former pirate name Ahmad in the parking lot of a Nairobi mall. He tells me that with the rise of the piracy warlords, the trade no longer holds much appeal for the little guy.

AHMAD: (Through translator) There are some people who benefit, and those are the big fish, the guys who lead us: the people who invest in the equipment, the boat, those things. We small timers are used as foot soldiers. We remain in hardship. Whether we die or not, they don't care.

WADHAMS: For NPR News, this is Nick Wadhams, in Nairobi.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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