Saturday, 4 October 2008

Somalia: Piracy or Privateering?

Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person. Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality.”Friedrich Nietzsche
The current situation in Somalia is bleak and disheartening. The only thing that takes our minds off our seemingly perpetual misery these days is the growing number of pirates some of whom have shown discipline, organization, courage and daring to hijack foreign ships under the very watch of the navies of powerful countries such as the US and France that have established sizable bases in our sister state of Djibouti on the pretext of monitoring terrorists based in the horn of Africa in general and Somalia in particular.
While maritime piracy is robbery committed at sea, privateering is a state sanctioned robbery also committed at sea. Privateering was used until the 18th century by some countries such as England and France to capture or destroy the ships of rival countries. Elizabeth I used to equip merchant ships to hijack and loot the ships of rival states.
The action of the Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia is difficult to categorize in many ways. While some of our pirates are in it for the money and can be classified as mere robbers, others may be classified as privateers who took it upon themselves to protect Somali shores against polluting, looting and trespassing by foreign fleets. In a recent interview with the BBC Somali Service, Sugulle, the official spokesperson for the pirates, portrayed his group as guardians of the Somali coast. He characterized the hefty ransoms demanded by them for releasing the hijacked ships as a form of deterrent for foreign ships to avoid entering Somali shores. It seems that the world is dealing with a sophisticated network of modern pirates who use modern communication methods to negotiate with the owners of the hijacked ships.
The most recent catch of the pirates is a Ukrainian ship laden with Russian T-72 tanks and rocket launchers destined for Southern Sudan, although Kenya has claimed ownership of the tanks. Since Somalia, the only enemy of Kenya in the area, is weak and needs a long time to recover and become a viable state capable of demanding and recovering the territories it lost to Kenya during the reign of the British colonialists, the tanks are most probably destined to Southern Sudan, a territory rich in oil and inspiring to break away from the largely Muslim North with the help of some western and African countries. The Somali pirates exposed this fact after getting hold of the manifest on the ship.
While Piracy is illegal, uncivilized and un-Islamic, some of the Somali pirates may be doing a great service to our lawless country. Their brazen and bold actions will definitely put the fear of God into the polluters who dump toxic waste into our unguarded waters; the looters who plunder our fishing grounds; and the trespassers who enter our territorial waters without our knowledge or prior consent.
As children, some of us may have read Treasure Island depicting a fictitious pirate known as Long John Silver and his daring exploits. The recent trilogy of the fictitious Captain Jack Sparrow in pirates of the Caribbean captures the imagination of our young generation born or raised in the West. There were also a number of real and famous pirates who captured the imagination of the west such as Blackbeard and Barbarossa, the red bearded Turkish pirate. It seems that there is something about Pirates that appeal to our human psyche.
So, will our pirates enter history as the protectors of Somali shores and inspire our future writers to spun tales around their daring exploits? Will Sugulle, the current spokesman for the pirates, and his compatriots become legendary figures such as Blackbeard and Barbarossa capturing the imagination of our future generations? Only history will tell.
I take this opportunity to wish all Somalis wherever they are a blessed Eid and a speedy end to the misery of the thousands of refugees displaced by war and drought. May God help us extricate ourselves from the mess we are in to take over from the pirates to protect our shores in a more civilized and legal way.
Ali H. AbdullaEmail:
____________Disclaimer: This article is not intended to encourage Piracy in any form and should not be interpreted as such.

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