Monday, April 13, 2009

Somalia: The Armada Is Not The Solution!

The Armada is not the solution...!

by Muuse Yuusuf
Sunday, April 12, 2009

The gathering of warships from over 20 countries off the coast of Somalia is a telling story. Some of these countries are sworn enemies that rather than cooperate would use their might to destroy each other. Probably for the first time in history, Chinese and American warships are standing shoulder to shoulder to defeat a common enemy.

Sarcastically, their enemy is not another great naval alliance but ragtag militias of Somali nationals who, for one reason or another, are determined to achieving their objectives, be it defending their national territorial waters, as some of them would claim, or even making money in a world motivated by the pursuit and maximisation of wealth creation as proven by foreign ships that have been fishing in Somalia’s territorial waters illegally.

The Armada, which has the UN backing, has somehow managed to curb the number of attacks by pirates, which were over 100 attacks last year. However, despite its presence, 270 hostages are being held, and 8 vessels are still in captivity.

The latest incidents, including the hijacking of an American ship and the drama of the escape bid by its Captain Richard Phillips, show that the Armada has failed its mention which was to fight and eliminate piracy. Also, one wonders how long is the Armada prepared to stay put off the coast of Somalia because the root cause of piracy is state failure and finding solution to that may well take a very long time.

As usual, the mainstream media is portraying Somali piracy as pure criminality in the high seas, which is against international laws and ought to be brought under control. However, except few media outlets such as the CBC TV in Canada, the media has failed to investigate and report the real causes behind the piracy, which, among other things, include: state failure, illegal fishing, waste-dumping, poverty and so forth.

According to UN reports, 700 fishing boats from over 10 countries and from far places as Thailand and Japan had been congregating at Somalia’s waters as early as 1990s, causing environmental havoc. Somali fishermen complained about the harassment and intimidation by these ships.

Here is how a fisherman described the plight they were facing; "They are not only taking and robbing us of our fish, but they are also trying to stop us from fishing," said Jeylani Shaykh Abdi. "[Our] existence depends on the fish," he said. Mr Hussein has accused the international community of "talking only about the piracy problem in Somalia, but not about the destruction of our coast and our lives by these foreign ships."

Even if one takes into account the organised and mechanised fishing activities during the collapsed central government, it is questionable whether they could have had such an impact on marine resources. This is because the few hundred fishing fleet boats that the military regime had procured were out of work in 1970s due to disrepairs and lack of maintenance.

Also, UN reports indicate some marine species have been disappearing from Somali waters, and coral reefs have been damaged. It is questionable whether Somali fishermen could have caused such damage because the fishing community in Somalia is a very small compared to other sectors. It roughly employs about 90,000 (1990) and its numbers have been declining due to displacement.

The community also uses rudimentary fishing tools and does not have the well-mechanised fishing fleet that one needs to drive some species to the point of extinction. Furthermore, Somalis are not sea people and are not fish meat enthusiasts because traditionally most Somalis are nomads who love their camel and cow meat.

The dumping of toxic and industrial waste in Somalia’s waters is another issue that has not been fully investigated or taken up by the media. However, UN reports indicate that as early as 1990s European companies had been dumping hazardous industrial waste in Somali waters, as this was the cheapest option for them.

This is what a UN official has to say about this sensitive issue; “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting about the early 1990s and continuing through the civil war there,” he noted.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of waste there, costing as little as $2.50 a ton where disposal costs in Europe are something like $250 a ton. And the waste is many different kinds. There is lead. There is heavy metal like cadmium and mercury. There is industrial waste and there is hospital waste, chemical wastes. You name it," said Mr. Nuttal, a spokes person for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In 2004, when the tsunami hit northern coast of Somalia, it did not only kill hundreds of villagers but it stirred up a secret that some hoped would forever remain buried at sea. As waves receded, rusting steel drums, barrels and other containers were washed off. Nature has exposed the illegal activities that took place.

The latest hijackings coincide with a sensitive time in Somalia’s politics when a widespread report by the Somali media claim that some zones of Somalia’s territorial waters have been sold off to Kenya. The argument is that, despite unresolved dispute over maritime boundaries between the two nations, the TFG has signed a Memorandum of Understanding in order to enable Kenya meet the UN’s deadline on 13th May 2009, in which some countries, wishing to lay claim to extensions of their continental shelf up to 350 nautical miles, must make their submissions.

Although the TFG has rejected the accusation, its critics point out that the government does not have the legality and capacity to conclude such an important agreement, which may well mean forfeiting Somalia’s claims over an extension of its continental shelf, and may well be surrendering Somali territorial sea waters to Kenya, a country which has been seen by Somali nationalists as an illegal occupant of a Somali region.

In conclusion, to safeguard Somalia’s territorial waters and its claims over an extension of its continental shelf, I urge the Transitional Federal Government to appoint a national commission to study the agreement between Kenya and Somalia in view of protecting the country’s territorial waters, and secondly to examine other options that are open to Somalia with regard to the UN’s impending deadline on 13th May 2009. One option would be the TFG to opt out of any treaty that comes out, or to negotiate a clause in the treaty which guarantees that Somalia can make its submission at a later stage when the country is ready to do so. Also, remember opposition groups will use the latest debacle as an excuse to undermine your authority; therefore a swift action to calm the public outrage is required.

As they say treating and curing a disease are entirely two different things that require different approach and attitudes. It seems the international community has chosen the easiest way which is to combat piracy “treat the symptom” but unfortunately has forgotten to curing the real causes: state failure. Genuine interest in helping to reconstitute the failed Somali state is the solution for the piracy problem.

In my view, the power struggle game between the Armada and Somali pirates is like a fighting between an elephant and a mouse; and who will win the fight is everyone’s guess! Let quote a Somali proverb – “Nin yaroo nin weyn dilay ma aragteen?, Dabagaallo aar dilay ma aragteen?

Muuse Yuusuf

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