Category Archives: Somalia

Why Darfur and Not …?

Black Star Journal recently linked to a long and thought-provoking post back in July by Ethan Zuckerman at My Heart’s in Accra about why the West seems much more concerned about Darfur than about a number of even more horrible conflicts in Africa.

Because you may or may not be an Africa-based journalist, let me unpack the question for a moment. There are a number of international conflicts that have claimed more lives and displaced more people than the conflict in Darfur. The Second Congo War and its ongoing aftermath is believed to have killed more than 5.4 million people, mostly due to “excess mortality” connected to disease and starvation. Other conflicts compare to Darfur in terms of brutality and displacement, but have received far less attention. War between Ugandan forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda has displaced more than a million people from their homes, and one in three boys in the region have been abducted, for periods of time or permanently, by LRA forces. The war between Ethiopia and Islamist forces in Somalia – supported by the US military – has created 1 million internally displaced persons and 450,000 international refugees.

It’s admirable that activists have been able to draw so much attention to Darfur. I’m interested in the phenomenon not to criticize focus on Darfur over other conflicts, but because I’d like to help people working on other conflicts gather attention and resources. I see Darfur as a rare example of an international crisis that’s gotten huge attention in the US despite the fact that most Americans have no direct, personal connection to the region. (I’m not the only one trying to do this – John Prendergrast, who’s focused on Darfur for the International Crisis Group, is one of several Africanists who’s started a new organization, Enough, designed to harness some of the attention around Darfur and call attention to situations in DRC, Uganda, Somalia and elsewhere.)

Agreeing with the analysis that attention paid to Darfur is unprecedented, my friend offers a two-part analysis, which I’ve modified to a three part analysis:

– The time was right. Guilt over the failure to intervene in Rwanda, especially on the part of North American and European nations, offered an opportunity to demand intervention in another African conflict.

– In the US, there was already close attention paid to Sudan by human rights and by evangelical Christian communities, based on a perception of the Sudanese civil war as a religious conflict between the Muslim north and Christian (and animist) south. (My contribution to the analysis, based on my experience talking to evangelical friends about their anti-Khartoum activism as early as 2000.)

– The conflict in Darfur has been reducible to a fairly simple media narrative, with good guys and bad guys… even thought this narrative doesn’t accurately reflect the reality on the ground.

It’s this last point my friend and I focused most of our discussion on. The process of covering the conflict in Darfur has convinced my friend that a narrative centered on a merciless proxy army raping, chasing and killing innovent civilians in an attempt to ethnically cleanse a region isn’t wholly accurate. “This isn’t good guys versus bad guys. This is bad guys versus bad guys.”

The rest of the post then provides supporting examples, and faults aid agencies like Save Darfur and reporters like Nicholas Kristof for sacrificing accuracy for advocacy.

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Filed under Africa, Darfur, Europe, NGOs, publishing, Somalia, Sudan, U.S., Uganda, war

Policing the Pirates of Puntland

The India-oriented blog, The Acorn, recently noted that the Indian navy is proposing to join the multinational effort to police the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa, many of them operating out of Somalia’s “self-governing” region known as Puntland.

Among the tasks assigned to the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150)—an international naval task force comprising, among others, of US, British, French, Pakistani and Bahraini ships—are maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. While its purpose is to deny the use of the seas to smugglers and terrorists the main problem in the area under its watch is piracy.

CTF-150 doesn’t have enough ships to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. So it advises large, slower vessels to travel in convoys so that it can better watch over them. But since this is not always possible, around one in 500 ships fall victim to pirates. Since the monthly traffic is around 1500, pirates succeed in raiding three or four ships each month.

Now the Russian navy is sending a warship to the area after one group of the pirates may have bitten off more than they can chew.

SOMALI PIRATES who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 T72 battle tanks – apparently bound for the autonomous government of South Sudan – yesterday warned against any attempt by Western navies to rescue the vessel’s weapons cargo or its crew.

Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates in the breakaway north statelet of Puntland said the pirates would soon begin the routine Somali pirate tactic of negotiating the return of the cargo ship Faina to its Ukraine state owners in exchange for a ransom.

Jama told the BBC Somali Service that the pirates demand is £18 million from the Kiev government because apart from the Russian made tanks the Faina is carrying “weapons of all kinds”, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and many hundreds of thousands of ammunition….

The pirate syndicates – of which there at least five, each about 1000-strong – operate out of Puntland, far to the north, wrapped around the Horn of Africa where the Gulf of Aden meets the Indian Ocean, which declared itself separate from the Republic of Somalia 10 years ago. Puntland is to Mogadishu what Kurdistan, semi-autonomous and far off in the northern mountains of Iraq, is to Baghdad.

Unrecognised internationally – although the British Embassy in neighbouring Ethiopia maintains close contact with the Puntland government, which is allowing oil exploration by three Western companies – little diplomatic pressure can be put on Puntland, which says piracy grew after international “sea robber” fishing fleets plundered and wrecked its rich fishing grounds. The United Nations estimates that fish worth at least £50 million a year are plundered illegally from Somali waters by Spanish and other foreign boats.

The pirates are unlikely to be unable to unload the tanks because of a lack of specialist heavy-lifting gear in the tiny ports and innumerable coves of Puntland, a barren land three times the area of Scotland which historically depended on fishing and camel and goat-herding.

But that will hardly discourage the pirates. What they want is booty, in the form of on-board cash, cargo and, most importantly, ransom money, which owners are increasingly willing to pay, given the huge values of ships and their cargoes and the daily costs of maintaining them at sea. On the same day as the Faina was captured, another Puntland pirate syndicate released a Japanese ship and its 21-member crew after a £1 million ransom was paid. The 53,000-tonne bulk carrier Stella Maris had a valuable cargo of zinc and lead ingots. And as the Stella Maris was being freed, Somali pirates were hijacking a Greek chemical tanker with 19 crew on board as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden from Europe to the Middle East.

The Faina is believed to be heading to the pirate port of Eyl, the main destination of hijacked ships where Puntland entrepreneurs run special restaurants for the hundreds of seized crewmen and where the pirates’ accountants make calculations on laptops and drive state-of-the-art land cruisers….

Worldwide, pirates attacked a known 263 large vessels in 2007, up from a reported 239 in 2006, according to Choong’s piracy reporting centre. Southeast Asia, especially the shipping lanes of the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and the huge Indonesian Island of Sumatra, used to be the world’s busiest place for pirate attacks. Better co-operation between southeast Asian nations and the consequences of the 2004 tsunami have greatly reduced the number of attacks. Many pirates operated out of Aceh, the northern province of Sumatra, but the tsunami destroyed their ports, wrecked their boats and killed many of the pirates.

Somali piracy easily tops the world table, both in terms of the number of attacks and the money made. It is the Somali financiers sitting mainly in Dubai, Britain, Canada, Denmark and Kenya who make the big money by keeping the bulk of the ransom payments. Pirates based in Nigeria and Peru are also climbing the league table.

France is now circulating a draft resolution in the UN Security Council urging nations to contribute more warships and aircraft to the fight against piracy off Somalia. While the Foreign office has ordered the Royal Navy, to the incredulity of the nation’s maritime industry, not to detain Somali pirates from fear of human rights complications, the French are being pro-active.

UPDATE: On The Atlantic magazine’s blog The Current, Robert Kaplan describes a bit of the lifestyle of these pirates.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Middle East, piracy, Russia, Somalia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, U.S., Ukraine

Head Heeb on the Somalian Regional Proxy War

The ever-vigilant Head Heeb has been closely following the growing likelihood of a regional proxy war in Somalia. Here is are the final paragraphs of his latest post.

Ethiopia and its local allies will push south from Puntland at the same time as they try to break the encirclement of Baidoa. This may, in turn, spiral into a proxy war; the same UN report that estimated the Ethiopian troop presence at 6000 to 8000 noted ominously that up to 2000 Eritrean soldiers may be in the country fighting on the Islamist side. In addition to Ethiopia’s jitters over the possibility that an Islamist state in Somalia might support domestic insurgencies, its fears of a second front against its long-time regional enemy now seem to be materializing.

And as if this isn’t enough, the possibility of Somalia being torn apart in a regional proxy war has a truly ironic postscript. A report on the fighting in the Independent notes sardonically that “the Palestinians are next in line to take over as head of the Arab League – raising the bizarre prospect of the Somali peace talks (if they are ever restarted) moving from Khartoum to Gaza.” Bizarre this may be, but not necessarily inappropriate. Given the number of contending factions in Somalia, the diversity of their interests, the unlikelihood that they can be persuaded to compromise and the number of foreign countries that want a hand in the outcome, Gaza might be the perfect place for them to negotiate.

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Filed under Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, war

Auden on Yeats in 1939 Inspires Somali in Canada in 2003

W. H. Auden seems a favorite poet to quote in these dark times. Google returns over 500 links to the memorable line “Each sequestered in its hate” from Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” who died in 1939. The poem begins:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

But the most oft-cited verses seem to be the following.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from each human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Now compare Auden’s words with a eulogy for the Somali exile Hussein Afrah Sheengiyale (d. Jan 2003):

Hussein Afrah Sheengiyaale died in the dead of winter
Earth, receive an honored Somali guest
Hussein Afrah Sheengiyaale is laid to rest
In this alien snow
In this old cold exile
In this old cold Canada …

All the crazy clans cower & wait
Each sequestered in its hate
Woefully arrogant
Willfully ignorant
That today
An important Son of Somalia died
In old cold Canadian exile
That every day
Thousands of Somalia’s best & the brightest
Languish
In anguish
Shivering
In this old cold Canadian exile

According to banadir.com, Norway (another cold country) is now forcing Somalis to return to their homeland.

The authorities in Norway, which has about 17000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers, have decided to return 400 whose asylum applications have been rejected. In fact, after a long period when Somalis were not returned to Southern Somalia, the changed situation in Mogadishu, including the opening of the airport, has given them the idea that it is now safe to return people there.

UNHCR has strongly advised against it, and other Scandinavian countries are not doing the same, preferring to wait and see.

Norway, which likes to be seen as a humanitarian nation, with peace-keepers and conflict solvers in many countries, is now practising a very strict policy in the case of Somalis.

This has caused a lot of debate and uproar. One party in the coalition government, the Socialist Left party, has condemned it, the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers, NOAS, is protesting, as is the Norwegian Refugee Council, and all major newspapers are daily writing about the situation. In fact, since this became known, the UNHCR has made a special appeal to the government, warning of the dangers of returning people to Somalia at the moment, as it is “a threat to the right to life”.

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Filed under Africa, Canada, Somalia