i can only imagine what sort of f*&$)# up narratives are circulating the u.s. media right now about somali pirates. so i thought i would share some points of view which are refreshing and smart in their analysis of the situation. the first comes from the fabulous rapper k’naan who is from somalia but who lives in kenya. he wrote the following which was published in the san francisco bay news and which provides some much needed historical context:
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.
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.
here is k’naan talking about the nuclear toxic waste on hard knock tv:
notice what he says: “i would say if you want the piracy to stop, stop dumping nuclear toxic waste in our country.”
and here is an episode of al jazeera’s “people and power” that investigates arms trafficking and that toxic waste dumped on somalia’s shores:
jeremy scahill has an excellent piece in the socialist worker today on the obama response to the recent american attack on somali pirates in which he ponders what the u.s. response will be now as well as what they will do with the somali man they are holding in custody:
There are certain to be calls from bloodthirsty lunatics to send this Somali man to Guantánamo or Bagram, with right-wingers like Newt Gingrich and Cal Thomas wrapping this into their tired “Obama is weak on terror” narrative. As Thomas wrote last week on the Fox News Web site:
What will the Obama administration do if the pirates are captured alive? He won’t sent them to Gitmo, which he is closing down. Will they get ACLU lawyers? Will there be testimony from a “pirates rights” group? Will they be released on a technicality after a trial in U.S. courts?
If there is not as forceful a response as there was during the Jefferson administration, it will invite more of these incidents. The world’s tyrants are watching to see how President Obama reacts. The message they get will determine how they respond to America and whether we will be in greater peril.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday called for the Somali man in custody to be “transferred to Guantánamo and held as an ‘enemy combatant,’ or whatever the Obama administration prefers to call terrorists.” On this point, Horton points out an interesting distinction between the Obama and Bush administration positions on “pirates,” particularly as it relates to the “terrorist” label.
The big legal issue is around calling them “terrorists,” which the Bushies did with regularity and Obama resisted. I think that Obama and his people are correct. These people were motivated by the desire to make money, pure and simple, which makes them conventional pirates. If they were labeled “terrorists,” the insurance company and the ship charter company wouldn’t be able to negotiate with them or make a payment. Pirates they can still pay off, which will often be the most sensible and least costly solution.
If the U.S. decides to pursue prosecution of the Somali “pirate” in custody in a U.S. court, he would hopefully have a right to a defense (which would clearly enrage the crazies) and the nature of that defense could well depend on what type of legal counsel he ends up with and how his lawyers present the motives of his actions, as described to them, in attempting to seize the Maersk Alabama.
This could be a major test of Obama’s legal interpretation of the rights of prisoners taken by the U.S. in unusual circumstances (to put it mildly). In an era when due process has been trashed in the U.S. and prisoners have been tortured at CIA “black sites” and held without trial for years at Guantánamo and elsewhere, Obama should allow exactly what Thomas and his ilk fear so much–respect for the legal rights of prisoners held by the U.S.
scahill added some bits to this on his blog–i am so elated to see he finally has a blog as his voice is so needed more than ever:
But the Obama administration has convened a special group on Somalia—even before the “pirate” crisis blew up publicly. And it isn’t just the “pirate bases” being looked at for potential military action. The Washington Post reported on Saturday:
Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.
Al-Shabab, whose fighters have battled Ethiopian occupiers and the tenuous Somali government, poses a dilemma for the administration, according to several senior national security officials who outlined the debate only on the condition of anonymity.
All of these developments in Somalia and the Horn of Africa come amidst a growing US military presence on the continent through the US military command known as AFRICOM. In late 2006, US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and overthrew the government in an operation that was framed in the rhetoric of the “war on terror.” The invasion resulted in an estimated 10,000 deaths and more than one million Somali refugees.
it is worth noting, too, that ken quinn, one of the americans who was on the ship the other day had this to say about somali pirates:
for more background on the somali pirates you can watch/listen to an interview with mohamed abshir waldo on democracy now! today. and you can read his article in which he historicizes much of this issue as well as offers some solutions:
The EU, NATO and US Navies can, of course, Rambo and obliterate the fishermen pirates and their supporting coastal communities but that would be illegal, criminal act. Yet, it may temporarily reduce the intensity of the shipping piracy but it would not result in a long-term solution of the problem. The risk of loss of life of foreign crews and ecological impact of major oil spill would be a marine catastrophe of gigantic proportions for the whole coastal regions of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden. In their current operations, the Somali fishermen pirates genuinely believe that they are protecting their fishing grounds (both 12-mile territorial and EEZ waters). They also feel that they exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen and the destroyed ecosystem by the IUUs. And their thinking is shared and fully supported by the coastal communities, whose protectors and providers they became.
The matter needs careful review and better understanding of the local environment. The piracy is based on local problems and it requires a number of comprehensive joint local and external partners approaches.
Firstly, practical and lasting solution lies in jointly addressing the twin problems of the shipping piracy and the illegal fishing piracy, the root cause of the crisis.
Secondly, the national institutional crisis should be reviewed along with the piracy issues.
Thirdly, local institutions should be involved and supported, particularly by helping to form coastguards, training and coastguard facilities. These may sound asking too much to donors and UN agencies. But we should ask what it meant those who paid tens of millions dollars of ransom and their loved ones held hostage for months.
Fourthly, a joint Somali and UN agency like the present ICAO for the Somali airspace should be considered.
finally, isn’t it a bit disingenuous for americans and europeans to rail against somali pirates when there are zionist pirates in palestinian waters attacking palestinians every day? i bet this never made the u.s. media:
6th of April 2009 at 7am: Israeli Naval forces have abducted eight Palestinian fishermen (including two minors) from the Salateen area in north of the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the fishermen’s four hassakas (small fishing boats) have been taken by the Israeli Navy. According to eyewitnesses, the fishermen were only about 100 meters from the coast at the time of their abduction.
Initial information received regarding the fishermen’s details are as follows:
– Esshaq Mohammed Zayed, 45
– Rassam Mohammed Zayed, 25
– Hafez Assad Al Sultan, 25
– Ahmed Assad Al Sultan, 17
– Safwat Zayed Zayed, 35
– Nashaat Zayed Zayed, 10
– Hammada Joma Zayed, 22
– Joma Mollok Zayed, 50
During the last month the Israeli Navy has escalated its attacks against Gazan fishermen by injuring at least three of them, abducting a further 24 fishermen, and stealing 10 hassakas and one shansula fishing boat.