Friday, April 10, 2009

Somali pirates: free the captain, and free the Somali people too

(updated 12 april) Good news that the captain of the Maersk Sealander has been set free from his captors. Now the world should set about freeing the whole of Somali people, who are all hostages of lawless gunmen.

Now that American ships have been attacked by Somali pirates, we can expect action, in the form of intense patrolling by Western warships. Understandably. With Obama in charge, happily we can hope that the patrols will be under a UN flag, or at least under the aegis of the UN.

I suggested naval patrols a couple of years ago, because food aid bound for Somalia is having to sail way out to sea, land the cargo in Kenya, and then drive it up to Somalia in lorries, all to avoid the pirates.

Somalia is a place from which the world likes to avert our gaze. The Somalis have suffered eighteen years of anarcho-capitalism, with rule by warlords. The Western Governments put themselves out to create a Transitional Federal Government, wound it up, and let it go toddling off into the hot, bloodstained sand, on its own. To nobody's surprise, the TFG has all but failed.

To set up a democratic state, you need a demos - an empowered people. A handful of ministers and civil servants are not enough. The same thing was done in Iraq, although, thankfully, it seems to be working, due to intense investment of power and money (the bits that Halliburton didn't embezzle, that is) by the USofA.

How should we set up a democracy in Somalia? We should go to the traditional tribal leaders, empower them, and help them to organise a panchayat system. It worked well in Mozambique.
Well let me qualify that: it worked as well as anything ever did in Mozambique when I was there in 1991.

There is an organisation called the Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD) in Somalia, although the CEO has had to leave the country, under threat from both the TFG and the extremist (as opposed to non-extremist) Islamists. CPD has been working with the tribal chiefs, and could help to set up a real state. But it needs an end to the fighting first, and that is a tall order.

The Islamic Courts Union succeeded in stopping the warlords in Mogadishu, using Sharia Law. You put your hand to that gun, they said, and that is the last thing your hand will ever pick up.
The gun stayed un-picked-up.

Heavy justice. But arguably preferable to anarcho-capitalism. Of course, Bush was not about to set a few warlords onto the ICU, and the warlordism continues.

One current problem is that Kenya is slicing off a bit of Somalia's territorial waters, by drawing wonky lines on the map. The weak TFG has lamely agreed to this further loss for Somalia's people, who need the fish. We may wonder whether any TFG Ministers were bribed? Is this a first step towards bordering states making land grabs?

It's all a miserable mess. The only way out that I can see is for the UN to make a serious effort to contact the traditional tribal chiefs and see what they can come up with. As with Israel/Palestine, diversionary activity in water conservation measures would be helpful.

Impossible though it seems, Somalia will get sorted out sometime in the future. The UN should set it as a priority, for the sake of the people, and for the sake of enhancing its authority. It is a difficult problem, but there are pathways available, some innovative, some traditional. What is needed is the political will.

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