Somalia: Pirates or Patriots of the Sea?

27 April 2009 at 04:50 | 1214 views

By Alie Kabba, USA.

It is disheartening, once again, to see the butchery of truth by an oversimplification of complex phenomena in a place that has become a metaphor for the grave ills of post-colonial Africa - Somalia.

As we say out here, don’t believe the hype! Or, as Bob Marley and the Wailers succinctly put it, half the story has never been told.

Let’s get through the debris of Gaza, the wasteland of Eastern Congo and the blighted plains of Darfur to get to the facts about Somalia and the Great Pirate Threats to Western Civilization as we know it.

First, the Good News: Somalia is not the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Somalis, struggling to hold on to the last trappings of sovereignty, don’t have nukes or threats of nukes or long range missiles to police their waters. Yes, the country has fallen on hard times, very hard times since 1991, when a brutal dictatorship imploded and the Somalis chose fragmentation over national unity.

Second, the Cold Fact: Like Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and other places that have witnessed civil wars and collapse of all institutions of governance, greedy armies of foreign corporate interests saw the chaos in Somalia as an opportunity to loot the natural resources of this warring nation. It was blood diamonds in the case of Sierra Leone, timber and gold in the case of Liberia, and enormous amount of mineral wealth in the case of the Congo. It’s the old law of the jungle: You fall on your back, the vultures soon land for a good meal.

Somalia has no diamonds, gold, oil and other strategic minerals ready for easy exploitation on land. What it does have, however, is the open sea with fish...tons of fish - for European markets.

Third, the Hard Truth: We live in a world with tons of nuclear waste, too. The waste was not created in Somalia. Remember, Somalia is not Iran or Pakistan or India or China or France or Britain or the US. But some of the nuclear waste has found its way to the open seas of Somalia...polluting the coastlines and destroying the livelihood of thousands of Somali fishermen. Someone is making lots of money for dumping nuclear wastes in Somali waters, but we are certain that the Somalis are not among the Dumping Mafia.

In a situation like the one prevailing in Somalia, one would expect that some Somalis would wonder why they are so helpless in the face of this brazen and illegal exploitation of their sea wealth. A few, in a sudden outburst of patriotic fever, would want to protect their coast with the little that they have left after all these years of fratricidal war.

Herein we find the clash of narratives: patriots as defenders of national sovereignty vs. pirates as criminal gangs in a lawless jungle of the high seas.

Whose story do you believe? Whose side are you on? Whose camera angle do you follow on the evening news?

The desperation that drives a sixteen year-old Somali to take to the high seas is neither examined nor validated in the news. “We should bomb the hell out of them,” some talking heads scream incessantly on television.

The old, lame binary analysis of the Somali Problem - good guys (on our payroll) vs. bad guys (everyone else that’s not on our payroll) - becomes Kool-Aid for policymakers in search of “new” ways to deal with old problems.

Experts on Africa in the Obama administration should know by now that the Somali Problem is not new. Alas, there are no quick fixes. Gun boat diplomacy won’t work!

After eight years of jargons à la Axis of Evil or Chasing the Devil in Empty Caves between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Obama administration should tread carefully in the waters of Somalia. Here’s a simple advice to President Obama: Take your Easter Victory in stride and avoid the temptation of triumphantism. It’s imperative to start with a good map, a policy framework that’s sound enough to change the game for the good of Somalia, Africa and the US.

The future of Somalia is anyone’s guess, but we must seek to understand the complex underbelly of “piracy” as an opening to illuminate policy discourse in the search for a new path to durable peace, security, stability and restoration of democratic statehood in Somalia.

Alie Kabba(photo) is Executive Director of the United African Organization, a Chicago-based advocacy organization dedicated to social justice, civic participation and empowerment of African immigrants and refugees in Illinois. E-mail: