Several Somali perspectives on Somali pirates
“As the first pirate attack on a U.S. ship in 200 years comes to a climax, I’m re-posting an essay I solicited and received several weeks ago from K’naan, a Somali-Canadian singer and activist. A video of a performance by K’naan that I filmed at the All Points West music festival last summer (can be seen here).” – Michael Vazquez, editor at URB. Don’t miss Davey D’s unforgettable interview with K’naan, parts 1 and 2, recorded April 12 and posted in the Bay View video section.
Can anyone ever really be for piracy? Outside of sea bandits, and young girls fantasizing about Johnny Depp, would anyone with an honest regard for good human conduct really say that they are in support of sea robbery?
Well, in Somalia, the answer is: It’s complicated.
The news media these days have been covering piracy on the Somali coast with such lopsided journalism that it’s lucky they’re not on a ship themselves. It’s true that the constant hijacking of vessels in the Gulf of Aden is a major threat to the vibrant trade route between Asia and Europe. It is also true that for most of the pirates operating in this vast shoreline, money is the primary objective.
But according to so many Somalis, the disruption of Europe’s darling of a trade route is just Karma biting a perpetrator in the butt. And if you don’t believe in Karma, maybe you believe in recent history. Here is why we Somalis find ourselves slightly shy of condemning our pirates.
Somalia has been without any form of a functioning government since 1991. And although its failures, like many other toddler governments in Africa, spring from the wells of post-colonial independence, bad governance and development loan sharks, the specific problem of piracy was put in motion in 1992.
After the overthrow of Siyad Barre, our charmless dictator of 20-some-odd years, two major forces of the Hawiye Clan came to power. At the time, Ali Mahdi and Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, the two leaders of the Hawiye rebels, were largely considered liberators. But the unity of the two men and their respective sub-clans was very short-lived. It’s as if they were dumbstruck at the advent of ousting the dictator, or that they just forgot to discuss who will be the leader of the country once they defeated their common foe.
A disagreement of who will upgrade from militia leader to Mr. President broke up their honeymoon. It’s because of this disagreement that we’ve seen one of the most decomposing wars in Somalia’s history, leading to millions displaced and hundreds of thousands dead.
But war is expensive and militias need food for their families and Jaad (an amphetamine-based stimulant) to stay awake for the fighting.
Therefore, a good clan-based warlord must look out for his own fighters. Aidid’s men turned to robbing aid trucks carrying food to the starving masses and re-selling it to continue their war. But Ali Mahdi had his sights set on a larger and more unexploited resource, namely the Indian Ocean.
Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia had been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.
But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Partners and an Italian waste company called Progresso made a deal with Ali Mahdi that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1,000 a ton.
In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “uranium, radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury and chemical waste.”
But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The U.N. envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia’s aquatic life.
Now, years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to bury our nation’s death trap.
Now Somalia has upped the world’s pirate attacks by over 21 percent in one year, and while NATO and the EU are both sending forces to the Somali coast to try and slow down the attacks, Blackwater and all kinds of private security firms are intent on cashing in.
But while Europeans are well within their rights to protect their trade interest in the region, our pirates were the only deterrent we had from an externally imposed environmental disaster. No one can say for sure that some of the ships they are now holding for ransom were not involved in illegal activity in our waters.
The truth is, if you ask any Somali, if getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels and the producing of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high.
It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end if our pirates are to cease their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums.
“The truth is, if you ask any Somali, if getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels and the producing of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high. … [O]ne man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.” – K’naan
It seems to me that this new modern crisis is truly a question of justice, but also a question of whose justice. As is apparent these days, one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.
This story first appeared April 13, 2009, in the Huffington Post.
Somalis are defending their land and shores
As for the “pirates” of Somalia, it is an encouraging case but also a very sad one. According to some, these so called “pirates” are professional Somalis with different careers behind them; that is, most of them were doctors, engineers, pilots, computer scientists, professors and so on.
I was told by a friend of mine that these ex-professional Somalis were converted to their new job when foreign big boats started clearing their shores, that is, their sea products, different types of fish and sea food. Some of the big international ships come to the Somali seashores in order to dump their toxic waste.
The Somalis are defending their land and their shores, I think very bravely. But it worries me to see that the U.S. and Europeans – the French in particular – are working actively to occupy Somalia.
The world is tired about their terrorist lies, so they are coming to occupy Somalia in the name of “pirates.” Believe me, the Somalis will fight until one person is left in their land.
This is a simple African woman’s opinion.
Renowned historian Runoko Rashidi shared this email message he received April 11, 2009. It is signed, “Your Sister in the Horn of Africa.”
EU firms should stop toxic dumping off Somalia
by Abdimajid Osman
The bloc claims that the goal of the enterprise is “to escort the World Food Program’s humanitarian convoys to Somalia and to contribute to the improvement of maritime security off the Somali coast as part of the European Union’s overall action to stabilize Somalia.”
More recently, the EU pushed for a U.N. Security Council resolution that was adopted on Dec. 2 to allow member states to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia.
French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert expressed his satisfaction with the resolution because: “Piracy is killing. Every day more than 3 million Somali people are depending on food aid, on emergency relief, which comes – 95 percent of it – by sea.”
In a time when Somalia is experiencing one of its most serious humanitarian crises ever, one would think that the unexpected determination and speed of the EU in deploying military muscle in the region should be welcomed by the Somali people.
But unfortunately, Atalanta looks like another disappointing duplicity toward the war-torn nation. Doubts hang over whether the EU is genuinely keen to help the people of Somalia in their desperate search for peace and stability.
Securing supply of oil
Two factors undermine the credibility of the EU’s operation in Somalia. Firstly, the main goal of the mission seems to be to secure the supply of goods and oil to the rich countries in the West.
In the past, the European Union resolutely rejected repeated calls from the African Union and Somalia’s neighbors to deploy peacekeeping forces in the country.
The rise of piracy on Somalia’s waters has suddenly ignited a spark in the corridors of EU decision makers, after the hijacking of a large Saudi oil tanker reminded the Western world of the vulnerability of maritime trade at a time of financial crisis.
The organization Refugees International (RI) criticized, recently, this global hypocrisy toward Somalia. The RI stated that “the speed and resolve with which piracy has been addressed by the U.N. Security Council underlines Somali sentiment that economic interests trump humanitarian concerns.”
Secondly, the EU’s inability or unwillingness to stop and punish the European-owned companies that have for many years been dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast seriously undermines the ethical claims of the new EU endeavor.
In 1996, when I was in the northern autonomous region, Puntland, in Somalia, there was already a widespread fear that foreign ships were taking advantage of the collapse of the Somalian state by using the nation’s waters as a refuse dump.
When the tsunami of 2004 hit the country, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that many waste containers washed up on the coast of Puntland. It is now widely understood that European companies are systematically dumping toxic waste in these waters.
U.N. special envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah has in the past few months repeatedly sounded the alarm about illegal fishing and toxic dumping off Somalia by European firms.
Abdullah said that his organization has “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping the waste – including nuclear waste – in this region.
The European Union has responded to these allegations with silence.
At a press conference on Dec. 2, following the U.N. Security Council resolution on Somalia, a reporter from Inner City Press asked Ambassador Ripert of France, which holds the EU’s presidency, about how the waste issue will be dealt with.
The ambassador answered: “I have no comment on the issue.”
There is now a fear that, if the EU clears Somali waters of pirates, European waste-dumping firms will inherit a safe haven to exercise their criminal and immoral activities.
If Europe wants to help the unfortunate people of Somalia, the most responsible and credible way to start would be stop and punish those companies.
In the long term, the union should also develop a comprehensive plan for the restoration of peace and stability in the country.
Editor’s note: To learn more about toxic dumping in Somalia, read “Somalia’s secret dumps of toxic waste washed ashore by tsunami” and “‘Toxic waste’ behind Somali piracy.” Many sources report overfishing by European fleets off both the east and west coasts of Africa. “The sea is being emptied,” said scientist Moctar Ba.
People & Power: ‘The toxic truth’
“Toxic Truth” reports on an investigation into illegal waste disposal in Somalia that led to murder. Watch this and other People & Power videos here.