by Muuse Yuusuf
Monday, May 17, 2010
The Somali piracy is again making the news. Since the deployment of warships from over twenty countries off the Somali coast in 2009, hardly a month has passed without some kind of piracy incidents taking place. Indeed, the first half of this month alone, Somali pirates were involved in eleven piracy acts; that is seventy-three percent of all reported piracy incidents worldwide. Many innocent seamen and passengers, including the Chandlers, the British hostages, are still languishing in captivity, guarded by gun-brandishing bandits demanding ransom. The latest military operation in which Russians had stormed a Russian tanker, killing one Somali pirate is an example of the international community's efforts to curbing piracy. However, the armada has so far failed to eradicate what is now clearly a pure criminality. The irony of the situation is that the international community’s wishful thinking that warships would destroy what was and is still ragtag militia were proven wrong by a well organised and money-motivated pirates, determined to make living off the Somalia coast.
It is now obvious that certain assumptions made by the international community during the deployment process have been proven wrong. For example, if the original plan was to protect Somali waters, and the Gulf of Eden, a massive area of 450,000 km², piracy incidents have demonstrated that even the most powerful armada with the most advanced technology and determination is unable to curb piracy effectively. It seems though to protect thousands of merchant and other ships that pass through the gulf every year from determined pirates would require the deployment of a much large number of warships. Lack of proper consultation over the coordination of the armada at the early stages of the deployment process is becoming clearer, as nations squabble over which country should protect which ship. Furthermore and more importantly, the pirates have taken their sea adventures to a higher level by showing their determination and ability to strike at places as far away as Seychelles, around 2,255 km from the gulf. This simply means that pirates have extended the “battleground” to the Indian Ocean, a massive 68.556 million square kilometres. The imposing question is then: can the armada of few dozens of warships police an area twice the size of the African continent, if not bigger? Indeed, the armada’s task of protecting huge areas, such as the Indian Ocean or even the Gulf of Aden, from ragtag militiamen, who could theoretically launch their operations from any point in Somalia’s coastal lines, sounds like deploying a few dozen tanks to chase ragtag militia on Toyota pickups across the whole African continent! That is an impossible task indeed!
The international armada Somali pirates…!!
It seems though reality has now hit hard the much-hyped international armada, which is now realising the impossibility of eradicating piracy by offshore means only. This was confirmed by naval commanders who have admitted that military force alone cannot solve the piracy problem, and, Mr Treki, president of the UN’s General Assembly, is the latest international personality to have warned about the seriousness of the problem, which could became global phenomenon unless something is done.
As I argued in another article posted on this website, /op2/2009/apr/the_armada_is_not_the_solution.aspxthe, the international armada alone is not the solution. What the international community needs to do right now is to resolve the Somali conflict, which has been left to linger for a very long time. The failure of the international community started at the beginning of the civil war in 1988. When the beautiful city of Hargeysa, the second capital city, was burning in 1988 because of the civil war, the international community had shown no leadership on conflict prevention and resolution or in exerting diplomatic and political pressures on the military regime and armed opposition groups. Indeed, the UN office in Hargeysa closed down on security and safety grounds when Somalis needed its services most. Again, in 1990 during the Manifesto time and when Mogadishu was on flames, the international community had turned its back on Somalia, leaving the country disintegrate into fiefdoms. Indeed, in his book “Somalia: the missed opportunity”, Mohamed Sahnoun, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, highlighted the international community’s failures and missed opportunities that could have saved Somalia from disaster. It was at that time that the world should have paid more attention to the Somali predicament to help the country go through what was a very serious transitional period.
Furthermore, when the international community did return to Somalia in 1992 under the UN mission, the intervention was too late as by then hundreds of thousands of people had died of starvation. And, as we all know, the grand UNISOM project had ended in disaster after the mission was allowed to degenerate to a manhunt project, which then resulted in the withdrawal of UNOSOM-II after US casualties. If one compares the international community’s behaviour in the Somali conflict with other post-cold war conflicts, such as the Balkan region, one could see how the world had acted decisively on one conflict, while the other was allowed to linger longer. It was the long-term political and military commitments, which had helped in ending the Balkan conflict while lack of such commitment had resulted in plunging this poor African country to further chaos.
In post-9/11 conflict analysis, it seems though while military and political commitments with huge resources have been allocated in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia is again at the bottom of the agenda, except few thousand African peacekeepers and government forces that are holed up in their Mogadishu barracks.
It is unfortunate that the international community has chosen to combat piracy “treat the symptom” but has forgotten to cure the real causes: state failure. The power struggle between the armada and Somali pirates is similar to a fight between a hare and an elephant, and who will win the fight is everyone’s guess. Therefore, genuine interest in helping reconstitute a viable Somali state is the missing link in the fight against piracy.