How About Them Pirates?

Colleagues and classmates who know I’m Somali have been posing this question to me lately (although since last week it has been more than usual). They seem to be baffled at why would anyone want to hijack ships and endanger innocent people’s lives. Then, usually, I have to give a history lesson of sorts. How piracy on the Somali coast didn’t exist not long ago and why over the past few years that has changed. As someone who is not from the coastal area or even been to Somalia for more than a decade, I’m careful not to come off as a know-it-all person. One of the things, however, I bring up in these conversations is the evolution of piracy in Somalia because not many people are aware of it since the press (most of them at least) have not bothered to do so.

The evolution from a community-based coastal protection to an outright piracy phenomenon within the span of a decade says a lot about the conditions on shore. After the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991, the Somali coastline became a toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing ground by multinational corporations and trawlers from Europe and Asia. So fishermen in these coastal communities got together and created a ragtag navy to prevent waste dumping and illegal fishing – after all, what will they eat if illegal trawlers continue to steal their livelihoods? For the most part, this effectively stopped waste dumping and illegal fishing in the Somali coast but warlords, who previously ‘signed leases’ with European firms to dump toxic waste on the Somali coast for millions of dollars, saw an even bigger opportunity in hijacking and ransoming ships. What started out as legitimate coastal protection thus became a piracy business in Somalia.

Personally I have a conflicted feelings about these pirates. On one hand, they have helped to stop toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing in our shores, but on the other hand, they’re just bunch of gangsters willing to do whatever it takes to get that next ransom money. Unfortunately this piracy problem is completely out of hand now and no matter how many super destroyers are sent in to the Gulf of Aden, pirates will continue to hijack and endanger more innocent lives. It is like the ‘the war on drug’ – there is too much money at stake for these pirates and their backers.

When the fishermen started to protect the coast, it was a community-driven initiative, but now it is highly organized and financed by various groups, including warlords, unscrupulous businessmen, and corrupt local leaders. If global powers want to stop piracy, they may want to get off their super destroyers and navy ships and find the solution on the ground. Ironically, In their brief six month rule of Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts nearly eradicated piracy before the U.S. sent in Ethiopia to remove them from power because apparently men with big beards and long robes and have “Islam” in their organization’s name are automatically terrorists. Anyway, now Al Shabab (the UIC’s reincarnation, only more extreme now) is in charge most of the eastern and southern Somali coast. They haven’t bothered to stop the piracy so far, unlike the Union of Islamic Courts. If Al Shabab wants to stop piracy, it can do it very quickly and effectively, but the question is: will global powers be smart enough to engage with Al Shabab in order to stop piracy? Very unlikely. The suggestion that pirates and Al Qaeda are working together bandied about in the press is not only wrong, but stupid. This suggestion, however, is more likely to grab the attention of global powers rather than the actual chaos and humanitarian mess that is the root cause of the piracy problem in the Horn.

The ‘Transitional Federal Government’ in southern Somalia is just that; a name. It can’t do anything about piracy just as it can’t do anything about its own security. So the cat and mouse game between pirates, commercial ships, and navies continue. So what I worry about is who will deter foreign vessels that dump toxic nuclear waste and fish illegally on our coastlines if global powers manage to defeat Somali pirates? Solving the piracy problem needs to be reconciled with the environmental protection of Somalia somehow.

Categories: East Africa, Piracy, Somalia | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “How About Them Pirates?

  1. cigaal

    The last 15 years of the Siyaad Barre regime was corrupt, delinquent and is partially the source of this problem. Toxic wastes were being dumped both off shore and on shore during this period. Siyaad spoke some crude italian, and what we know of italians, they can dump any waste anywhere, including their own backyards (witness: Napoli).

    I hear the same pirates peddling this fantastic story, how poor fishermen were converted into ‘coast guards’ in an attempt to prevent the illegal fishing. I think law abiding italians are equally frustrated when people generalize mafiosi activities and label them as ‘italian mafias’. The majority of the somalis are not involved in this criminal activity, and really dislike the generalization to ‘somali’ pirates. The solution is name and shame the communities that are consistently prone to criminalities: if the camorros are the ones aiding and abating the mafiosis, well, it’s fair to label it the ‘camorro mafia’. The world is already naming and shaming the somali people (wrongly).

    This fantasy story about the inhabitants of the Barri and Galgaduud regions as displaced fishermen is really fantastic. You were a menace to the farming communities of somalia with your land banditry, displacing the orginal inhabitants of historical places like Mogadishu (a catastrophe and war museum now), the people of Marka, the people of Brava, Kismayu etc, and as we all very well know were our somali fishermen but who now languish in refugee camps around the world. Please Barri and Galgaduud pirates, you are a menace to the world now. Your criminal and extortionist ways must change, Boosaaso pirates do you get it?

    In no way does this excuse the criminals who rape and pillage the somali seas and resources, and have now brought their armada to further this criminal activity. Europe, America, Asia – you have been stealing from the somalis and you must stop this hypocracy.

  2. Om

    I’m sorry but I don’t really get the point you are trying to make, Cigaal. Are you saying that Ali Mahdi’s contract with Italian and Swiss firms to dump toxic waste into Somali waters are fabricated? Are you saying the first fishermen who started patrolling the coast before becoming pirates are untrue?

    Siyad Barre was a criminal dictator; no one is arguing about that, but to suggest that it was he who started dumping toxic waste into Somali water needs to be substantiated with proof. The Swiss and Italian companies who did this dumping in the 1990s turned over documents showing the dates and the places they dumped. Is there such a document you have about Siyad Bare?

  3. cigaal

    ronaldo scores from a long short as i turned to write this lol
    om, you write the list of culprits, including that ali mahadi, and inshaallah they’ll face the day of judgement. the somali fishermen, like the somali teachers, the somali nurses, the somali farmers, are all extinct species. they were done in by the burcad (in the south they’re called mooriyaan), the land bandits, the boardroom bandits, and now known as the ‘somali pirates’. you talked about this in your post, but i just wanted to set the timer back to the original sin: siyaad barre (sometimes his acts pales against what is going on now, he is almost squeaky clean as a choir-boy in comparison). but he did bad things with his italian friends.

  4. hmalik

    You two really got my brain twisted. Maybe I need to pick a book on Somalia’s history and people before replying, but I will just let you what I think for now and please correct me if I understood something wrong.

    I believe that pirates will not prevent waste dumping nor they have the power to deter those criminals on their own, but they have surely succeeded in turning the world’s attention to the crisis of toxic waste dumping. Yet I see that the world failed to see far from the shores of Somalia to the origin of the problem and the influence the toxics have on “PEOPLE.”

    I am somewhat sympathetic with these pirates. I couldn’t imagine the tribulation they lived through. Whether the civil war or the deadly radiation of nuclear waste, they must have seen their people becoming sick and dying every day. They must have witness the loss of their livelihood under the watchful eyes of their unjust/corrupted rulers. Who could blame them for their acts, even if their intentions are not to the save the environment?

    I am sure Somalia’s instability only serves the best interests of the same hypocrite major player, including the U.N. or any other organization that claiming to seek peace and justice in the world. No one cares for the poor who are bleeding their health away. If Africa is to be wiped off the face of Earth for the sake of Westerner’s survival and wellbeing, who would stop that of happening?

    So, while piracy is barbaric act, “a person who keeps silent where right and justice are violated and truth is desecrated is mute Satan.”

  5. cigaal

    Somalis and Peace, a series of discussions at Ali Matan masjid, Hargeysa Somaliland. I am linking a youtube clip and you can follow with the rest on youtube. Instability and lack of peace is a problem people in africa continuously face (in Kenya the recent mungiki attacks and counter-attacks), the acts of piracies, and many worriesome acts:

    Barca vs Chelsea in 10 minutes time lol

  6. Om

    Thank you cigaal….sorry, been busy with finals and all. Saw that Barcelona vs. Chelsea game yesterday…I can’t believe they booked a red card for that poor guy.

  7. What’s so innocent about people in the high seas, probably fishing illegally? A bunch of sissy pansies, if you ask me. If I weren’t a girl stuck in North America, I’d be muckin’ up those ships too and put away a little something for my retirement.

  8. Om

    Lool Aya! You’re back! So glad to have you sneak in once in a while:-) I can picture in me head you holding those RBGs with a leaf of khat to the side! Mad respect my friend.

    The funny thing is that the correlation between piracy and decline of tuna hauling in the Somali coast is so telling. Over the past year or so, illegal fishing has almost thinking those pirates had something to do with.

  9. Om, thanks! 🙂 How did it go with the end of the semester exams?

  10. Om

    Alhamdullilah…everything went well, Aya! I’m very happy about that:-)

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