April 11, 2009 (rev April 14)
The Wisdom Fund

Those Somali Pirates and the Scramble for Africa

by Enver Masud

Those Somali pirates - trying to stop illegal dumping and trawling, the crisis in Darfur, the war crimes charges against Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, and the bases in Africa sought by AFRICOM are best understood in the context of the New Great Game - the scramble for Africa's resources.

In January 1991, Somalia's president Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown by a coalition calling itself the United Somali Congress which then divided into two groups - one led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, who became president, and the other led by Mohammed Farah Aidid.

Fighting broke out among rival clans, and food shortages became widespread. Pictures of starving Somalis were repeatedly broadcast in the United States.

In a bid to destroy the forces of Mohammed Farah Aidid, on December 12, 1992, the U.S., undercover of a "humanitarian mission" invaded Somalia. In the following ten months, 10,000 Somalis died in battles with the U.S.

"Colin Powell, at the time the chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the invasion a "paid political advertisement" for the Pentagon at a time (less than a year after the end of the so-called Cold War) when Congress was under growing pressure to cut the war budget."

The U.S. ultimately withdrew. The deciding battle for Mogadishu, the Somali capital, was captured in the film "Black Hawk Down."

It was a humiliating defeat for the U.S., and Somalia descended into chaos. U.S. support for warlords fueled the turmoil.

Peace was restored when the Islamic Courts Union came to power.

"Finally, after 16 years, the Somali people have decided to liberate themselves with the leadership of the Islamic court, said Sheikh Sherif Ahmed, Chairman, Islamic Courts Union.

"The Union of Islamic Courts does not want to impose a Taleban-style Islamic state in Somalia, says their leader." (BBC News, June 6, 2006)

But the U.S. had its own plan. On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia, supported by the U.S., invaded Somalia.

"The coordinated assault was the first open admission by Ethiopia's Christian-led government of its military operations inside Somalia, where - with tacit American support - it has been helping a weak interim government threatened by forces loyal to the Islamic clerics who control the longtime capital, Mogadishu, and much of the country. (New York Times, December 25, 2006)

"The real reason [for U.S. support of the invasion] is likely to be that the Ogaden region, which borders Somalia, sits on a not yet exploited gas field. (Daniel Whitaker, Observer, November 12, 2006)

"The Somali government is busy crying 'al-Qaida' at every turn and offering lucrative deals to oil companies, in a bid to entice greater western support." (Salim Lone, Guardian, April 28, 2007)

When the U.S. role was revealed, support for the Islamists increased, and Somalia faced a new humanitarian crisis.

"A local human rights group put the death toll at 1,000 over just four days earlier this month, and more than 250 have been killed in the past six days.

"More than 320,000 of Mogadishu's 2 million residents have fled since heavy fighting started in February." (Salad Duhul and Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Independent, April 24, 2007)

The United Nations labeled it the "worst refugee crisis." reported "the United States has intervened directly into the conflict, carrying out bombing raids on fleeing refugees and nomads, firing missiles into villages, sending in death squads to clean up after covert operations, and . . . assisting in the "rendition" of refugees, including American citizens, into the hands of Ethiopia's notorious torturers."

"Amnesty International has called for the role of the United States in Somalia to be investigated, following publication of a report accusing its allies of committing war crimes." (Steve Bloomfield, Guardian, May 7, 2008)

16,000 civilians died in this new conflict, and despite U.S. support, the Ethiopian troops were forced to withdraw in January 2009.

"Analysts had feared the withdrawal of the Ethiopians would lead to a power vacuum and fighting between rival Islamist factions.

"But at the moment all factions - whether they back the peace process with the government or not - seem to be working together." (BBC, January 15, 2009)

Now, the new "Great Game of Hunting Somali Pirates," may be a precursor to reestablishing U.S. control in the region - i.e. bases for AFRICOM.

The "piracy in Somalia has its origin among disgruntled fishermen who had to compete with illegal poaching by foreign commercial vessels in its tuna-rich coastal waters", writes former Indian ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar.

"At some 3,300 kilometres, Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa. With a fertile upswelling where the ocean reaches Africa's Horn, the seas are rich in tuna, swordfish and shark, as well as coastal beds of lobster and valuable shrimp. (Daniel Howden and Abdinasir Mohamed Guled, Independent, November 14, 2008)

"The pirates are actually a blessing in disguise. They provide an excuse for the administration to beef up it's military presence and put down roots. . . .

"When the Asian tsunami of Christmas 2005 washed ashore on the east coast of Africa, it uncovered a great scandal. Tons of radioactive waste and toxic chemicals drifted onto the beaches after the giant wave dislodged them from the sea bed off Somalia. Tens of thousands of Somalis fell ill after coming into contact with this cocktail. They complained to the United Nations (UN), which began an investigation. . . .

"In 2006 Somali fishermen complained to the UN that foreign fishing fleets were using the breakdown of the state to plunder their fish stocks. These foreign fleets often recruited Somali militias to intimidate local fishermen. Despite repeated requests, the UN refused to act." (Mike Whitney, Global Research, December 2, 2008)

The scramble for Africa's resources is acclerating.

"A US businessman backed by former CIA and state department officials says he has secured a vast tract of fertile land in south Sudan from the family of a notorious warlord, in post-colonial Africa's biggest private land deal. . . .

"He believes that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years".

With the US-backed Ethiopian forces ousted, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whose Islamic courts movement ruled Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia for six months before being ousted by the Ethiopian military at the end of 2006, was elected as Somalia's new President on January 31, 2009.

"Despite resistance from virtually every nation in Africa, the U.S. continues to seek a home for its Africa Command, AFRICOM. The lure of African oil and other resources causes Washington to devise various schemes to dominate the continent . . . a central Washington political thrust in Africa revolves around the Darfur region of Sudan [where Israel is collaborating with rebel forces]. What the U.S. really wants is regime change in Sudan, and control of its oil resources." (Mark P. Fancher,, February 18, 2009)

"Barely a day after the daring rescue of an American sea captain, cable TV's Spike announced a deal Monday to produce a show about U.S. Navy pirate hunters" perhaps to prepare Americans for the overthrow of Somalia's new president, and an AFRICOM base forced upon Somalia.

Like millions of innocent civilians in Somalia and Sudan, the captain of the Maersk Alabama was caught up in this deadly game.

Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

"(1)The measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the forgone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. . . .

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. . . .

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity.--Lawrence Summers, "'Dirty' Industries, World Bank, December 12, 1991

[Our immediate aim is to curb illegal fishing and dumping of industrial waste products by foreign vessels.--Ali Khalif Galaydh, "The Somali Prime Minister, to the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries," United Nations, May 15, 2001]

"Black Hawk Down: Somalia in 1992-93," International Action Center, December 12, 2001

[Somalia's coastline has been used as a dumping ground for other countries nuclear and hazardous wastes for many years as a result of the long civil war and, thus, the inability of the authorities to police shipments or handle the wastes.--"REBUILD DIFFERENTLY AFTER TSUNAMI, UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME ADVISES IN NEW REPORT," United Nations, February 22, 2005]

David Leigh and David Pallister, "The New Scramble For Africa," Guardian, June 1, 2005

"Backed by the U.S., Ethiopia Invades Somalia," The Wisdom Fund, May 12, 2006

"Somalia: Lawless War a Grab for Oil," The Wisdom Fund, April 27, 2007

M K Bhadrakumar, "The Great Game of Hunting Somali Pirates," Asia Times, November 22, 2008

Ehiwario, L.C., Akinyemi, O.M., Omo-Ojumah H. O. and Edebiri N. Osayi, "The Effect of the Colonial Masters in Africa: The Case of Ensuring Peace in Somalia,", November 25, 2008

[Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won't act on those crimes - the only sane solution to this problem - but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world's oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.--Johann Hari, "You are being lied to about pirates: Some are clearly just gangsters. But others are trying to stop illegal dumping and trawling," Independent, January 5, 2009]

Roger Middleton, "Somali president faces tough task," BBC News, January 31, 2009

[The IUUs (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported), which are estimated take out more than $450 million in fish value out of Somalia annually, neither compensate the local fishermen, pay tax, royalties nor do they respect any conservation and environmental regulations - norms associated with regulated fishing. It is believed that IUUs from the EU alone take out of the country more than five times the value of its aid to Somalia every year.

. . . it cost European companies $2.50 per ton to dump the wastes on Somalia's beaches rather than $250 a ton to dispose of the wastes in Europe.

. . . There are seven pirate clans in Somalia, . . . One of the groups in Somalia, the Kismayu group, is known as National Volunteer Coast Guard and focuses on small boats close to the shore. They do not use the word "ransom." They call what they collect a "fine" for illegal acts. The Merkah group has fishing boats with longer-range fire power. And the most sophisticated groups have names like the Central Regional Coast Guards, Ocean Salvation Corps and the Somali Marines. . . .

The people masterminding the piracy are outside Somalia.--Mohamed Abshir Waldo, "There Are Two Piracies In Somalia," AfricanLoft, February 11, 2009]

[The Somali pirates who took control of the 17,000-ton "Maersk Alabama" cargo-ship in the early hours of Wednesday morning probably were unaware that the ship they were boarding belonged to a U.S. Department of Defense contractor with "top security clearance," which does a half-billion dollars in annual business with the Pentagon, primarily the Navy.--Jeremy Scahill, "'Pirates' Strike a U.S. Ship Owned by a Pentagon Contractor, But Is the Media Telling the Whole Story?,", April 8, 2009

[When warlords toppled former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia collapsed into anarchy. That led to a wave of illegal fishing, plus dumping of toxic and industrial waste, in Somali waters by foreign boats from Asia and Europe.

Towards the end of the decade, local fishermen and militia formed groups with names like the "Somali Coastguards" and the "National Volunteer Coastguards", to drive away or apprehend the vessels from South Korea, Italy, Spain, Thailand and elsewhere. . . .

All analysts agree that the best way to quash piracy off Somalia is to achieve stability onshore, where civil conflict has raged for the last 18 years.

Fourteen attempts to restore central government have failed since 1991, and a 15th one is in its infancy. The United Nations and others are hopeful that the administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, set up earlier this year, is the best chance in recent times of bringing peace to Somalia. . . .

Ahmed is a moderate Islamist with widespread support inside and outside Somalia, but he faces an insurgency by pro-al Qaeda militant Islamists and his government really controls little but a few areas of Mogadishu.--Andrew Cawthorne, "Who are the Somali pirates," Reuters, April 11, 2009]

[According to UN reports, 700 fishing boats from over 10 countries and from far places as Thailand and Japan had been congregating at Somalia's waters as early as 1990s, causing environmental havoc.

"Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting about the early 1990s and continuing through the civil war there," . . . There is lead. There is heavy metal like cadmium and mercury. There is industrial waste and there is hospital waste, chemical wastes. You name it," said Mr. Nuttal, a spokes person for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).--Muuse Yuusuf, "The Armada is not the solution,", April 12, 2009]

[The U.S. military's African Command, or Africom, could lead the land-based effort. Unlike other commands, Africom doesn't have large military units. It also has only one permanent base, in Djibouti. The staff of Africom is half civilian and half military personnel and includes representatives from the Departments of State, Treasury and Health and Human Services.--Jeff Bliss, "U.S. Military Considers Attacks on Somali Pirates' Land Bases,", April 12, 2009]

Fred C. Ikle, "Kill the Pirates," Washington Post, April 13, 2009

Robert Dreyfuss, "Can We Forget About Pirates, Please?," Nation, April 14, 2009

VIDEO: "Analysis: Somalia Piracy Began in Response to Illegal Fishing and Toxic Dumping by Western Ships off Somali Coast,", April 14, 2009

Jeff Nygaard, "Pirates, Profits and Propaganda: Predictable Distortions,", April 28, 2009

[ . . . the pirates are increasingly viewed as stains on the devoutly Muslim, nomadic culture, blamed for introducing big-city evils like drugs, alcohol, street brawling and AIDS.--Jeffrey Gettleman, "For Somali Pirates, Worst Enemy May Be on Shore," New York Times, May 9, 2009]

"Somali gunmen 'renounce piracy'," BBC News, May 25, 2009

[ . . . the Bush administration was trying to do was to justify the militarization of Africa. In other words, the early seeds, the growth of AFRICOM. It wanted a reason, an excuse, to, if you like, secure Africa, primarily for its oil resources, the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent. . . . the war on terror provided just such a reason.--"British Anthropologist Jeremy Keenan on 'The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa',", August 6, 2009]

Tristan McConnell, "Hillary Clinton pledges US support to Somali Government," Times Online, August 7, 2009

[Clinton has pledged to spend a total of 184.5 million dollars to provide security assistance to military, paramilitary, and police forces in the coming year to countries which are the responsibility of the new U.S. Africa Command, or Africom.--Daniel Volman, "Clinton Sprinkles US Military Aid Across Africa,", August 10, 2009]

Letter to International Criminial Court: Hussein Ali Elmi, "The War Between International Pirates and Somali Marines in Somalia Coast," Somali Young Presidents League, August 28, 2009

[ . . . more than half of Somalia consists of the seas around the country. This makes the oceans vital to the survival of the Somali people. . . .

Somalia has territorial waters of 200 nautical miles (nm), based on Law No. 37 on the Territorial Sea and Ports, of 10 September 1972. This law states clearly that fishing in territorial waters and the regular transportation of persons and goods between Somali ports is reserved for vessels flying the Somali flag, and other authorised vessels with a licence and permission from the legitimate Somali government and not by a regional government.--Abdulkadir Salad Elmi, "The Real Pirates in Somalia: Washington, Paris and Oslo,", September 16, 2010]

[The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said 53 ships were hijacked worldwide - 49 of them off Somalia's coast - and eight sailors were killed.--"Pirates seized record 1,181 hostages in 2010 - report," BBC News, January 18, 2011]

Guy Adams, "'Prince of Mercenaries' who wreaked havoc in Iraq turns up in Somalia: Blackwater founder sets up new force to tackle piracy," Independent, January 22, 2011

Jay Bahadur, "The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World," Pantheon (July 19, 2011)

[But protests are being planned by campaigners who accuse the London Somalia Conference of having little to do with piracy or terrorism and instead being an attempt by Britain to secure its economic interests in the oil-rich and strategically important Horn of Africa.--Guy Adams, "World leaders plan crackdown on Somali pirates," Independent, February 9, 2012]

[The ballot was limited to Somalia's 328 MPs due to security concerns over holding a wider election, and one of them did not cast a vote.--Muhamud Ali, "Somalia's new president elected by 327 people,", May 15, 2022]

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