Somali pirates have been in the news for quite a long time now, coming and going like a bad rash. Commentators have attacked the problem from many angles- the failed state angle, international criminal law, the future of international shipping- but the social angle appears to have been largely neglected.
That’s why I was somewhat delighted-and intrigued- to come across an article discussing the impact of piracy on the ‘marriage market’. The article was largely anecdotal, but it did confirm some of my suspicions about the surprising impact that glamorized criminal activity can have on society under certain conditions.
Despite being a somewhat localized activity, piracy is obviously going to have a big impact on its Country of origin. Some are pretty obvious- the money flowing in has seen prices shoot up, pricing many things out of the reach of many people and causing inflation and increasing income inequality.
Some are a bit less foreseeable- for example, the fact that pirates have been setting up rudimentary stock exchanges to deal with the excess money. However the social impact is so widespread that new angles to this situation are emerging.
One which I feel has not been given enough attention is its’ effects on marriage dynamics- the adjusted expectations of both prospective brides and grooms.
So here in a nutshell is what happens: a group of young and able-bodied men set sail with guns and repeatedly hijack foreign ships, extracting large to free the captured hostages. So far so familiar.
(And just to be clear- incase my summary comes across as a bit too flippant- I disapprove of piracy) The pirates then return to land and find themselves treated as rock stars, rich men who are now suddenly very eligible bachelors and swashbuckling ones at that.
What this does is transform the general conception of what an ideal husband should be and creates a stampede for the nouveau riche in question. But because there is obviously a small number of pirates and a suddenly large number of prospective brides, the market becomes distorted.
For one, the ‘price’ signaling a desirable husband shoots up dramatically. In a poor Country, wealth is a much stronger indication of a desirable husband than it would be in a more developed or egalitarian society.
But when that society has an influx of suddenly very wealthy men, you can see how the dynamics can become changed.
Of course it is not just the pirate money that changes things - merely being a pirate brings with it an image and ideal that makes the pirate a lot more attractive as a prospective husband.
The moral ins and outs of that idea-and what social conditions create it- are beyond the scope of this article, but there seems to be little doubt that piracy has changed the marriage dynamics in Somalia.
In addition, what it probably does is then drive piracy expeditions even more as men increasingly struggle to reach the new ‘marriage baseline.’
Furthermore, it is likely that men who were previously marriage material but who haven’t dabbled in piracy suddenly find that their prospects on ‘the market’ have become bleak.
Quite how widespread this effect is-or indeed how long it will last- is unclear.
But it is interesting to consider that while the media chatter is concentrated on about the bigger, global implications of piracy, there is a social struggle involving marriage going on beneath the surface.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer