President Barack Obama reassured the American people on April 13 that his administration was on top of the Somali piracy issue when he said, “We are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region,” adding that the pirates must be “held accountable for their actions.”
However, there are some American politicians, analysts and activists who while saying the piracy cannot be allowed to flourish, want to know when the Western world will be held accountable for dumping of nuclear toxic waste and illegal fishing that has all but destroyed the capability of some nine million Somalis to sustain their families.
According to Reuters, over “$300 million” worth of tuna, shrimp and lobster are stolen every year by illegal trawlers that fish off the Somali coasts. The New York Times acknowledged in a September 2008 story that the Somali piracy industry started around 10 to 15 years ago as a response to the illegal fishing.
It is being reported that Obama gave the go-ahead for Navy Seals to take out the four pirates who were holding the captain of the Norfolk, Virginia-based Maersk Alabama hostage. Three of the pirates, reportedly teenagers who were out to get some fast cash, were killed; the fourth is in custody. The captain is alive and well.
The youthful, would-be pirates attempted their hijacking of the American ship on April 6, but the crew of 20 Americans fought back. The captain, in order to save the lives of his crew, offered to become the sole hostage.
The LA Times said the last time African pirates attacked a ship flying an American flag was in 1804 off the Libyan coast. The International Shipping News said that pirates hold some 250-270 captives and 18 vessels in various coves off the 4,000-kilometer Somali coastline.
The International Maritime Bureau reported that the Maersk Alabama was carrying food aid bound for Kenya that was to be distributed, ironically, in Somalia. The Associated Press reported that the ship belongs to Maersk Ltd, a U.S. subsidiary of the Denmark firm A.P. Moller-Maersk. The AP said the company has top security clearance and does a half billion dollars a year in business with the U.S. government.
The headlines in the Western media heralded the rescue of the American captain while high-level officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Australian counterpart proclaimed “these people are nothing more than criminals.” While everyone was basking in the glow of praise for killing three teenagers, the plane carrying New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne was fired upon by al-Shabaab, the militant youth arm of the Union of Islamic Courts at the airport in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on April 13. Payne, who chairs the House Sub-committee on Africa and Global Health in the Committee for Foreign Affairs, had just held a press conference at the presidential palace after a meeting with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, according to the BBC. Payne said they talked about a myriad of things.
A spokesperson for al-Shabaab told Agence France Presse that the new government was “welcoming America,” which they considered to be their enemy. “We will never stop attacking them,” stressed the spokesman.
By the way, while the president was receiving his kudos for freeing the captain and Payne’s plane was being shot at, the pirates seized two more ships; another two were seized on April 14, according to a NATO spokeswoman.
Payne told reporters that the lawlessness on the Somali coastline was a symptom of “decades of instability.” Somalia last had a central government in 1991, and the result has been years of civil war and clan rule.
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, has been saying since February that some of the instability in Somalia is a result of the past administration’s failed position over the last eight years. “The previous administration maintained a disjointed and short-sighted approach towards Somalia,” Feingold said in a February letter to the president.
On April 13, he again called on Obama to forge a new approach, a coherent strategy for U.S. diplomatic efforts and then to consider making a public statement that there is a clean break from past policies toward Somalia by meeting face-to-face with the new Somali president.
The State Department released documents showing that $350 million in humanitarian aid had been sent to the Horn of Africa nation, along with an additional $25 million to build a courthouse and to give jobs to teenagers. A Davidson College professor released a strategy paper during a March 12 conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies saying that U.S. policy makers must approach Somalia with “humility.”
“U.S. engagement will only prove effective if it’s driven by sound analysis,” wrote professor Ken Menkhaus. “The U.S. answer has been to militarize the region by sending in a Navy armada and to hire Blackwater to protect private shipping interests,” Emira Woods, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, explained to the AmNews. “First people need to recognize that the only government in Somalia able to preserve peace is the UIC [Union of Islamic Courts],” Woods said.
Woods added that during the time in 2005 when the UIC controlled most of Somalia, there was very little piracy. The RAND Corp., a think tank, believes the same thing, according to one of its Africa experts, who says that “piracy plummeted” when the “Islamists” were in power.
Woods said the overriding goal of the U.S. is to control Somali political institutions while waging war, by proxy, in their counter-insurgency operations against al-Qaeda. Other analysts agree, saying while the U.S. casts its operations in the Horn of Africa as a war to curtail terrorism, its real goal is to obtain a foothold in the highly strategic region by establishing a client regime. The Gulf of Aden is the transit corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply.
Refugees International offers that U.S. policy requires a complete overhaul, prioritizing humanitarian concerns over narrow terrorism objectives, calling for a truly inclusive political process. The human rights group reported that there are 1.3 million internally displaced persons in Somalia, with 400,000 refugees in other countries. The UN reports that 3.2 million Somalis, or 40 percent of the population, are in need of food aid. Woods argued that the U.S. is really interested in Somali resources of uranium, its unexplored fields of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, natural gas and, of course, oil.
“There are large oil deposits on both sides of the Somali border with Ethiopia,” Woods said, adding that international oil interests were agitating for their chance to exploit the new findings, saying they want the resources at prices too low to be real. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to Somalia, told the UN Security Council that Somalis need “to draw upon their own resources” so they may turn the corner on their “long march to normalcy.”
Abdallah admitted to reporters at the UN that the world body has “reliable” information that European and Asian companies are dumping nuclear waste in the waters off the Somali coast- line, but the December 2008 UN Security Council resolution authorizing the 20-nation armada with ships from the U.S. to China under the command of the British Royal Navy and with authorization to track pirates into Somali territory, makes no mention of illegal fishing or hazardous waste dumping.
In fact, the French ambassador, basking in the glow of having his nation’s draft resolution adopted by the 15-member council, said when asked by reporters about the waste issue, “I have no comment on the issue.”
That sentiment may lead the pubic to better understand what a British pirate by the name of William Scott meant when he exclaimed before his hanging in South Carolina: “What I did was to keep from perishing. I was forced to go a pirating to live.”