UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) – President Barack Obama vowed there would be an international crackdown to halt piracy off the Somali coast during an April 13 press conference, where he talked about the rescue of the captain of the Norfolk, Va.-based Maersk Alabama.
The captain was seized by four Somali pirates on April 6. Three of the youthful so-called pirates were killed by Navy snipers, a fourth, who reportedly is 16-years-old, is in U.S. custody.
Observers say while the exploits of Somali pirates dominate the corporate media, there’s been too little discussion of the root causes behind the piracy. A New York Times story about pirate seizure of an Ukrainian ship last September acknowledged the Somali piracy industry started about 10-15 years ago as a response to illegal fishing.
Reuters reported over $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp and lobster are “stolen” every year off Somalia coasts.
Others say it is impossible to put a price tag on the illegal dumping of waste, some of it nuclear waste, on the Somali economy and marine life since 1992.
Mohamed Aloshi Waldo, a Kenya-based Somali journalist, consultant and analyst, said April 13 on nationally syndicated Democracy Now, “It is no secret–the issues fueling the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. It is not hidden–not something we are making up, the world knows, but it doesn’t do anything about it.”
“There is a critical need to tackle the problem with a multifaceted approach to ensure that the political process, the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union, and the strengthening of institutions may work in tandem bearing successful results,” added UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, during a special Security Council meeting.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the secretary-general’s special envoy to Somalia, told the Security Council the international community should help the Horn of Africa nation reach the end of its “long march to normalcy” with employment programs, and aid for infrastructure, renovation and rehabilitation of local institutions.” Somalis need to draw upon their own resources, he added.
An editorial in a Somali newspaper noted that the crisis in Somalia is tied to the “power vacuum” of the last 17 years. Somalia has been without a central government since 1991. The UN served as a de-facto government, until the forming of the Transitional National Government in October 2000, with a mandate to create a permanent government in three years.
However, because of fighting between the TNG and the Union of Islamic Courts, there have been no national elections. A new president was installed by the temporary parliament in February, after the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who had been in power since 2006.
Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, held a meeting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu with the new president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. Rep. Payne said in a statement that it was “important to focus on the progress the people of Somalia have made over the past several months.”
“I feel strongly that despite the ongoing piracy, this two-month-old government is making significant progress,” said the congressman. His plane was fired at on April 13 as he was leaving the airport in Mogadishu. Rep. Payne said that despite the mortar fire, his experience in Somali was “positive.”
A spokesman for Al-Shabaab, the youth organization of the Union of Islamic Courts, told Agence France Presse they fired on the congressman’s plane because “this government is welcoming America which is our open enemy and we will never stop attacking them.”
The Somali press editorial April 15 added, “Piracy is being taken advantage of as a guise for intervention.” It noted that Somalis “welcomed” the U.S. naval attack that freed the Maersk Alabama’s captain and urged the international community to eradicate piracy.
Emira Woods, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said it is understandable that piracy not be allowed to flourish, but the media should also talk about the U.S. designs to occupy Somalia through a proxy government. “The U.S. is backing a militaristic response to the piracy while not offering a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia; the lack of any type of local economy, high unemployment and a serious food crisis. The goal is to plunge Somalia back into the warlord-craze of the past,” Ms. Woods told The Final Call.
Ms. Woods believes the key is for the Obama administration to move away from the Bush administration’s policy of viewing Somalia as a breeding ground for al-Qaeda.
Sen. Russ Feinstein (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, sent a letter to President Obama in February arguing for “a comprehensive and coherent strategy using diplomatic efforts along with military and intelligence; and a break from the former administration’s short-sighted approach to Somalia.”
Refugees International, a Washington-based human rights group, agreed with Sen. Feingold: “U.S. policy requires a complete overhaul, prioritizing humanitarian concerns over narrow counter-terrorism objectives.”
Jeff Sidiqui, a Seattle-based Arab American activist who heads the American Muslims of Puget Sound, noted in an e-mail to The Final Call: “In America’s hysterical search for al-Qaeda, we killed thousands of Somali men, women and children without compensation. We directed the imprisonment and torture of untold numbers of Somalis–even to Guantanamo Bay. We did it in the name of the integrity of our nation.”
The State Dept. said the U.S. has given $350 million in humanitarian aid to Somalia–including $25 million to build courthouses and to create jobs for Somali teenagers. The UN estimates that 3.2 million or 40 percent of 9 million Somalis need food assistance and water.
UN High Commission for Refugees reported 1.3 million Somalis are considered internally displaced persons, with 400,000 Somali refugees in other nations.
While the secretary-general and his special envoy spoke of the need for the international community to see the piracy issue as tied to illegal fishing and waste dumping issues, the response so far from the 15-member Security Council has been Resolutions 1816 and 1838. The measures authorize mobilization of foreign warships to form a global armada to fight piracy in the sovereign waters of Somalia and, if needed, to track pirates in the country.
The British Royal Navy leads the 20-nation armada known as “Operation Atalanta” with war ships from countries like the U.S., France and even China.
“The resolution contains no mention of the illegal fishing piracy, hazardous waste dumping; or the plight of the Somali fisherman,” Mr. Ould-Abdallah said after the council vote.
Prof. Abdi Samatar of the University of Minnesota’s Geography and Global Studies Department, explained to The Final Call, “If the international community wants the cooperation of the Somali people, then the issue of the piracy of the Somali fishing stock must be addressed as a political issue not a military one.”
“For 20 years, nations from Europe and Asia have been dumping their waste and stealing the livelihood from Somalis, and still the international community does nothing, says nothing,” he said.
He added that in the northern region of Somalia known as Puntland, where many of the pirates hide, a court sentenced 10 pirates to 20 years in prison for the October 2008 attack on a Syrian ship. It is an example of how Somalis are willing to help in the fight against piracy, Prof. Samatar said.
- Somalia, pirates and prospects for a U.S. invasion (FCN, 04-22-2009)
- Somalia piracy and the untold story (FCN, 04-13-2009)