| Issue 377
and Regional Affairs
by Bill Weinberg on Thu, 04/16/2009 - 23:14.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new US initiative
April 15 to battle piracy off Somalia, and said she has formed a
diplomatic team to press Somali leaders "to take action against pirates
operating from bases within their territories." She added: "These
pirates are criminals. They are armed gangs on the sea. And those
plotting attacks must be stopped."
Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke (whose
"government" actually controls very little of Somalia) told the
Associated Press that his piracy-fighting plan will be ready next week
in time for an international conference on Somalia in Brussels. In
Nairobi, Sharmarke and the president of Somalia's autonomous Puntland
region met with US diplomats including the ambassador to Kenya. "We want
to press them to take action against these pirates who are operating
from their territory," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. He
said the United States was willing to help but has not decided how best
to do so. (AP, AllAfrica.com, April 16)
An April 17 New York Times editorial, "Fighting Piracy in Somalia,"
applauds the US Navy for the rescue of Richard Phillips, but warns:
The cruel fact is that even as Americans celebrated the rescue, the
Somali pirates — in what is business as usual off of Somalia's long
ungoverned coast— were grabbing more ships. There are now 17 captured
ships and about 260 hostages waiting to be ransomed. The short-term
answer is more patrols and better cooperation with regional states; a
long-term solution, alas, remains elusive.
The U.S. and French governments were fully within their rights to
authorize deadly force against the heavily armed pirates. Though the
bandits may only be looking for ransom, their trophies have included
giant oil tankers and ships full of sophisticated weapons. They have
seriously disrupted shipping in one of the busiest maritime passages in
the world, and their tactics could easily be adopted by terrorist groups
— including Islamist groups inside Somalia linked to Al Qaeda — looking
to cripple global commerce.
Of course, this is an acknowledgement that the pirates aren't Islamists.
In fact, the Islamists have threatened to attack the pirate bases in
Puntland (after the pirates were so indiscreet as to seize a Saudi
ship—given that the Saudis are likely underwriting the Islamists). The
Times squawks the standard media line:
Somalia has known only varying degrees of anarchy for 18 years now. A
whole generation of Somalis has been raised in a violent free-for-all of
warlords, pirates and extremists. Misguided American attempts to impose
order produced the "Black Hawk Down" fiasco in 1993 and an ultimately
useless Ehtiopian invasion in 2006.
Yet left to its own devices, Somalia can only become more noxious,
spreading violence to its East African neighbors, breeding more
extremism and making shipping through the Gulf of Aden ever more
dangerous and costly. Various approaches are being discussed, such as
working through Somalia’s powerful clans to reconstitute first local and
then regional and national institutions. These must be urgently
explored. One thing is clear: the United States cannot go it alone. This
is a problem that can only be solved in partnership with Western allies
and East African governments.
Again, no acknowledgement that "Somalia" actually consists of (at least)
three distinct entities: the autonomous regions of Puntland and
Somaliland (which govern themselves fairly well) and the oxymoron of
"government-controlled Somalia"—which is only one-third of what maps
label "Somalia," and isn't controlled by the government. The Great
Powers insist on viewing the problem in Somalia as a power vacuum which
can be solved by Great Power intervention (whether unilateral, as Bush
attempted through his Ethiopian proxies, or multilateral, as the Times
would prefer). Instead, it is that part of Somalia (the southern third,
and the former Italian colony) which has been a war zone for nearly a
generation now, thanks to Great Power efforts to impose governments. The
northern two thirds of the country (Puntland and Somaliland, the former
British colony), have achieved their own autonomy in spite of the Great
Powers, and have relative peace. Going after the pirate bases in
Puntland may provide the pretext for putting an end to its hard-won
Meanwhile, leave it to the kneejerk Idiot Left to rally uncritically
around the pirates. London Independent columnist John Hari, writing
April 13 on Huffington Post, has a much-quoted article entitled "You Are
Being Lied to About Pirates":
In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed.
Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since -
and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a
great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our
nuclear waste in their seas.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious
European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast
barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first
they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after
the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up
on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas
of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish
stocks by over exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More
than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea life is being
stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's
unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their
livelihoods, and they are starving.
This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have
emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at
first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at
least wage a 'tax' on them. They call themselves the Volunteer
Coastguard of Somalia - and it's not hard to see why. In a surreal
telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their
motive was "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters... We
don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be]
those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas
and carry weapons in our seas."
We've noted the claims about toxic waste here—and they are entirely
plausible. But before we swallow this "Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia"
jazz, we'd like to see some evidence that the voluminous ransom monies
have been democratically distributed to impacted coastal communities, or
used for ecological remediation. Predictably, Hari is just as blind as
the New York Times to the fact that Somalia is not just a lawless zone
where a self-styled "Volunteer Coastguard" is needed to come to the
rescue. Puntland, from where the pirates operate, has its own
rudimentary coast guard, and it has (under foreign pressure) been
deployed against the pirates.
Nyankor Matthew, in an April 15 piece for the Liberian Dialogue, "Somali
Pirates: International Hypocrisy and Pretext for Military Invasion and
Economic Imperialism," sees illegal fishing in Somali waters as a
provocation to the crisis:
After years of plundering their resources, the Somali fishermen finally
decided to fight off the real pirates, thieves, and terrorists, and
instead of being called voluntary coast guards, they are being labeled
as criminals, pirates, and terrorists... In my humble opinion they are
totally justified in their actions because they are doing nothing
different than what is being done to them by the same people calling
them pirates. The only difference is that unlike the propagandists, the
Somalis don't have a voice.
She quotes a report form the NGO ECOTERRA International:
ECOTERRA International warned ship-owners as far back as 1992, that they
were fishing illegally within the Somalia's Exclusive Economic Zone.
When foreign vessels refused to stop pirating Somalia's ocean resources,
EcoTerra repeatedly appealed to the US and the international community
for help to protect the coastal waters of the war-torn state to no
avail. This void provided an opening for the rise of Somalia's pirate
Illegal fishing is a serious problem, but we'd like to know how seizing
ships loaded with humanitarian aid is addressing the problem. And, alas,
even Matthew, with her pan-Africanist perspective, offers no
acknowledgement that two-thirds of Somalia is already running its own
affairs reasonably well. International recognition of Puntland's
autonomy and Somaliland's declared independence—building on the
stability that already exists, instead of tearing it down—could provide
a way out of the crisis. But hardly anyone is talking about that.
World War 4 Report