Piracy and Somalia

EDITORIAL, 4 May 2009

#60 | Johan Galtung

To start with the conclusion: the piracy issue–in 2008 40 of 100; in 2009 so far 25, attacks succeeded, 18 vessels with about 310 sailors captive, ransom average $2-3 million–can be solved but only if treated as part of the whole Somalia complex. But USA and EU detach piracy as a crime to be fought, deterred and prevented by the EU “NAVFOR Atalanta operation”, killing, bringing them to court, hoping for individual and general prevention will stop “banditry” (there is also that element).  Navies of 24 countries police 2 million km2.

Piracy, of course, is a crime.  But so are:

* robbing Somali fishermen of their jobs, starving Somalis of essential food, and Somalia of export of tuna-shrimps-lobster through illegal industrial fishing by 220 ships from mainly European = Christian countries, like Denmark and Spain;

* dropping toxic, possibly also nuclear, waste, on land and sea, using the failed state aspect of Somalia since 1991;

*  paying Christian Ethiopia, enemy over the Ogaden issue, to invade Somalia 2006-8 and killing 10,000 to “restore order”, which they had under the Somali Union of Islamic Courts.

No EU navy protecting Somali livelihood against piracy, no protests, nor against US invasion 1992-94 for oil interests accorded by Mohamed Siad Barre, overthrown by Mohamed Aidid, the major target of the invasion; under cover of the famine.

From a USA-EU point of view the present military approach to piracy is self-defense for ships, crew and cargo.  But from a Somali point of view piracy is also self-defense:

* teaching (mainly) Western countries a lesson, aka vengeance;

* extracting compensation for lost fisheries & other damages;

* financing rebuilding of Somalia and more self-defense.

More realistic than “self-defense” is “war”, with the parties using the tactics at their disposal.  When it started can be disputed. But the invasion by Ethiopia in 2006 was a major escalation that radicalized the Somali resistance from Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the Union of Islamic Courts to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and Hisb-al-Islam, and al-Shabab militants.

Sharif lost credibility staying in Djibouti, which helped the invasion, being congratulated by USA, and being granted $213 million by the EU donors conference Apil23 2009 while the Arab League Doha Summit March 30-31 granted nothing unless he reconciles with his opponents.  Sharif is cautious in his relations to Ethiopia and its Prime Minister Meles Zenawi,  deceived by Bush, whereas Aweys has two very clear demands:

* all foreigners out,

* constitutional change to an Islamic republic.

Imagine now a UN-AU conference with all the issues on the table and all actors affected by the outcome at the table; all of them explaining their concerns, and listening to the concerns of others.  An agreement might contain such elements as:

1.    apology and compensation for losses due to the fisheries;

2.    international policing of ships carrying toxic waste;

3.    apology and compensation for the Ethiopian invasion;

4.    the right of Somalis to political self-determination;

5.    an internationally policed end to piracy;

6.    an internationally organized massive reconciliation.

The West has to admit that crimes were committed, that they never understood a clan-based country (like the Suleyman and Saleebar clans), nor Islamic concepts of rule of law, only their own.  The fifth point they understand.  And the sixth they might learn from Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister.

But imagine they only go for the fifth point, in the way they do right now, blind to all other issues.  And imagine they “win”: there are Navy Seals or their equivalents on all ships, early satellite warning works, ports are cordoned off; elementary, easy steps, strange they have not managed so far.

“Mission accomplished” is declared.  What happens then?

The war changes to another arena.  Wars are also about settling accounts, and there are many of them.  Piracy is a soft war, no lives lost except seven to US and French guns, no ships harmed, some cargoes delayed and a little redistribution of money.  But the pirates got four ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns, would that be better?  Suicide bombing?  Robbing banks, or American tourists anywhere in Africa?  US embassy bombings?

In no way is this a defense of piracy; only an effort to see the context, to explore where a solution might be located.  In 1805 Thomas Jefferson initiated US military interventions abroad against “piracy” from the Barbary Coast-Tripoli-Libya.  They were Barbarians, civilized peoples being those who engage in trade.  But, maybe they were not interested in that trade? Anyhow, by 1815 US Marines had enforced civilization on them.

For Somalis the issues are connected holistically; the cartesian West picks and chooses guided by self-righteousness.  The International Criminal Court might be used, now a proven instrument for the recolonization of Africa, run by white people against black, in flagrant breach of the very basis, equality before the law, major criminals being exempted.

A more advanced system for adjudication, restoration and conciliation, like the Polynesian, might arrive at a solution in a day or two.  There are similar Somali approaches (shir).  Maybe not strange if Somalis take the law in their own hands?

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 May 2009.

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