Somali Pirates: Heroes or Villains?
Western mainstream medias’ perceptions of the Somali, as well as with many African communities, are often that they are mindless, crazy and violent, as seen in the film Black Hawk Down. The context for the violence is often ignored.
An important part of the story of the Somali pirates has only begun to be discussed recently outside of Somali circles. As shown in the short CBC documentary by Joe Schlessinger, the Somali pirates began as something of a makeshift coastguard after the collapse of the Somali government. Somali waters, rich in tuna and the source of the livelihood of many Somali, needed to be protected from illegal fisherman from various countries.
Another, and even more sinister encroachment on Somali territory came to light after the tsunami-the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters. Canisters of toxic waste washed up on shore during the tsunami, and the people became aware that their waters were a dumping ground for toxic waste, including nuclear waste, from Western and Asian countries. So the Somali pirates, a coalition of Somali fisherman and Somali street militias, originated in the rather legitimate cause of defending Somali waters from illegal fishing and the illegal dumping of toxic waste.
But, as so often happens, a noble cause became corrupted by greed. And in a poor developing country with little political stability, there aren’t many options for young men to make a living. So capturing boats and holding their crews for ransom became a Somali boom industry.
President of the Canadian Somali Congress, Ahmed Hussen, points out that although the pirates are making an estimated $100,000,000 year, Somalia is losing over $300,000,000 a year from illegal fishing. And who can predict the long-term consequences of the dumping of toxic waste? Hussen suggests that the best way to deal with the problem of Somali pirates is to reenforce the local Somali authorities and give hope to the unemployed Somali youth and militiamen that there can be other ways to make a living than piracy.
For more information see:
Somali-Canadian hip hop artist and activist K’naan on Somali pirates:
K’naan music video called Somalia, about the Somali pirates
K’naan interview on the BBC
Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates by K’naan
Joe Schlessinger’s CBC documentary on Illegal fishing, dumping of toxic waste and piracy off the coast of Somalia ran on the National on Monday April 6, 2009
Farid Omar writes about how British lawyers, negotiators, and security teams are profiting off of Somali piracy in a blog post on February 19 2009 It includes an interesting story about how the Somali pirates unknowingly hijacked a Ukrainian ship loaded with military weapons they were planning to bring to South Sudan via Kenya.