Saturday, April 11, 2009

on the pirates

the events taking place in the Gulf of Aden over the past couple of days have ignited interest in and sparked debate about Somali pirates.

first, it must be acknowledged that their actions are clearly in breach of international law. the issue, however, is how did this happen? how, in this day and age, is piracy thriving? why does the world seem helpless in terms of how to address this matter, politically and legally? i will not attempt to answer these questions, here...i just want to raise them. in situations like this, it is often easy to gloss over the underlying issues and concentrate on the headlines. mainstream media outlets have relied, as per usual, on sensationalizing or glossing over the facts, choosing to focus on the most recent hostage-taking situation, without delving deeper to examine the history and root causes of this phenomenon.

the UN Special Envoy to Somalia has confirmed that there is indeed 'reliable information' that European and Asian ships have been using the Gulf as a dumping ground, for years, without being held to account. when questioned as to whether this dumping has been officially sanctioned, he maintained that 'no government has endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible.'

even the hip-hop world has gotten involved: people have been chiming in on twitter, particularly after an interview on Shade 45 featuring K'naan, in which he attempted to explain the context of modern-day piracy in Somalia, briefly shedding light on a history of Western ships dumping toxic waste--including nuclear waste--into the Gulf, which has resulted in destruction of the coastline and in the potential poisoning of the people.

the question therefore arises: who are these pirates? are they essentially sea-borne extensions of the warlords, terrorizing the seas purely for financial gain or are they freedom fighters, forced to take desperate measures to defend the territorial integrity of a country the rest of the world has given up on?

regardless of my personal opinion on the matter, i've chosen to focus on offering context because that is what is often missing in cases like this. i think the majority of the information that is being widely circulated is simply not telling the full story. i decided, therefore, to offer a glimpse of this debate, from various points of view, from both Somalis and non-Somalis.

background information on the topic, including analysis can be found in Johann Hari's 'You're Being Lied to About Pirates and in Daniele Archibugi and Marina Chiarugi's excellent analysis, 'Piracy Challenges Global Governance'.

and below are various opinions on the issue:

excerpt from K'naan interview with HardKnock TV

ongoing debate between friends and colleagues on facebook:

Zaynab at 4:50pm April 10
This issue of so called 'Somali Piracy' has been deeply troubling me lately. Is there such a thing as Somali Pirates? I don't think so. This is another American led Western invention to justify an invasion/occupation of Somalia. Americans still remember 1992 and their Black Hawk Dawn! These armed men were created by a specific political vacuum that
... Read More we all know about and I do recognise it is a major problem. But they certainly cannot be labelled ‘pirates’. According to Sheeko Magazine, these 'pirates' see themselves more like the guards of the Somali cost which is being pillaged by the real pirates; Europeans, Americans, Russians…etc who have no business to be anywhere near Somalia. I am sure of one thing; the Americans, who set up a massive base in Djibouti after 911, are exhausting the resources in the Red sea, especially the fish while our people are dying of hunger. Let’s not be fooled by the Massas and their propaganda machines.

Mo at 5:12pm April 10
Hey Zeinab nice to hear from you...
I have to politely disagree with you on this one… I think blaming America for the piracy requires what Hillary Clintons once said a willing suspension of disbelieve.
Africans can’t continue to blame all what is wrong with our societies on someone else. What were they pirates guarding when they went into Kenyan waters and captured the Saudi oil tanker? Somalia unfortunately has become a hellish place, where Pirates, Warlords, and Religious zealots congregate… The silent majority better speak up and be counted before the little of what is left disappears.

Zaynab at 5:33pm April 10
Hey Yahya, good to hear from you too. Please dont get me wrong; I am not blaming ALL our problems on the devilish, Neo-imperialist American government. Although, if you truly deny or misunderstand their involvement in the destruction and destabilisation of the whole African continent, then you are deluding yourself. I do understand what are the issues we are facing and yes, I do know about the warlords and tribal divisions which are destroying our people. The hateful and greedy amongst us are very good in perpetrating our own oppression. But not everything is all negative e.g, the religious zealots that you blame brought peace on the street of Somalia to the relief of the majority. And it is only with peace that education and change can be fostered. Having said that, these so called pirates are a problem, but they are not pirates. What gives anyone the right to exploit Somalia and dispose of tons of nuclear waste on our shores just because there is no stability or government?

Farzana at 5:57pm April 10
Figuring out what's wrong with our countries and having an opinion on the imperial West are two different things but often have an overlap and many of our problems are caused by interference, imperialism, colonialism, neo liberalism, etc, etc. I think the West should be bashed as often as possible because it is so hypocritical and self righteous. At the same time, yes, we have to move ahead and forge our own destiny. But I think a real, dignified destiny can only be forged by looking less and less towards the West.
Zaynab at 6:22pm April 10
I could not have said it better! Understanding our enemies and those who don’t wish us to unite and be in control of our resources is a crucial part of finding the solutions. The new rulers of the world are in for global dominance to secure their luxurious way of life and it is all about resources. Yet, resources are the one thing they do not dispose of as their lands are not blessed as African lands. But they are willing to get them by all means. And we should be focusing on how to mobilise our efforts to counter their Machiavellic plans and to ensure that our people are the biggest beneficiaries of our own resources. It is all about economic power and we must be at a more advantageous bargaining position. Without Venezuela, the US would not have any gas today.Therefore, Chavez can say what he likes about America and expel the Israeli ambassador with no remorse. What truly worries me is Africans looking up to the white man for salvation! We must shake this off!

Mo at 6:55pm April 10
If being deluded is not being conspiratorial then I am as guilty as charged. Excusing banditry and fanaticism for expediency sake is a mistake. Don’t let your hatred of America blind you about the nature of these people. Both the Pirates and the illiterate fanatics are curse to an already suffering people. As for the peace you are talking about, go tell that to the family of the young girl the fanatics stoned to death in Kismayu or the Sufi Somali that are being persecuted or maybe the hundereds of Somalis being killed in Mogadishu,I could go on but I am sure you get the point

I know you don’t subscribe to any of the ideology of these people, but I am wee bit worried that your vitriol dislike of uncle sam maybe influencing your assessment…

p.s I noticed you never answered my question about the Saudi ship captured in Kenya, or where they also guarding the Kenyan waters out of pan-African solidarity

Zaynab at 7:07pm April 10
Yahya, I heard you and I am not blinding myself about the ignorant minorities that are causing destruction. But you seem to be blinded from the complete truth and the bigger picture. So I respectfully disagree with you. And the Saudi ship is a useless little detail in the whole matter. Please please just check the following link and listen to the debate right now on there. And please check out what AFRICOM is truly about.

Mo at 7:09pm April 10
Farzana, I don’t subscribe as you are already aware, to the notion that west is our problem…If the Asian tigers and China were able to prosper why not the rest, why not the Islamic world? Self-determination is what our forefathers fought for in the Colonial Era, what they really meant to say was I want to replace the colonialist so I can behave just like the them. They failed our generation has to correct that but not by pining our problems on others.. The implication of your point of view that we are so powerless and that things are always done to us, I for one do not subscribe to such victimhood

Zaynab at 7:43pm April 10
You are misunderstanding me my dear brother. Never do I indulge myself in victimhood. But I will challenge any eurocentric views of what is wrong with Africa, even if it has a Black face...especially when it has a black face.
The Asian tigers were colonised by other Asian (e.g Japan) and these colonialists, unlike the Europeans, build all the
necessary infrastructures for economic take off as they believed the progress of these countries will be their own progress. So, this is not a valid comparason.

Farzana at 8:04pm April 10
We can't divide ourselves and say 'these' people are complete evil fanatics. Where do 'these' people come from? Islamic terrorism was created by the damn West to begin with to fight the Soviets. I really don't understand what is so victimhoody about acknowledging that.

Then there are are many other ideological terrorists who branched out to fight the West in general. Even then, there is not much difference between myself and that person given that many of 'terrorists' are your average, middle-class educated types.

'These' people are humans, too.

Repeat: Nothing 'victimhoody' about acknowledging what the US is doing.

Mo at 8:17pm April 10
I am asking for us to take some responsibility for our failed societies. I think with some probing the indicators will lead you to no where else but mostly to poverty of leadership, with largely a consenting society or indifferent one…I hope we will stand up and confront what is wrong with our societies rather than look for-- scapegoats….

...and the debate continues...