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Piracy in Somalia and its cause

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By: Mohamed Sharif Mohamud*

Piracy off the Somali coast in the last two years has attained a level of audacity and aggressiveness that has sent waves of shock and panic across the world. It has endangered innocent passage of international maritime trade through major waterways, affecting routes connecting Europe to Asia and Africa in a way that led to the increase in insurance costs of ships, raising the prices of commodities and putting at risk the economies of the world, already plagued by deflation and economic downturn. AS a reaction to this phenomenon, big powers sent their armadas to the Somali coast to take the law into their own hands.

The root-cause of this problem goes back to the instability which characterised the recent history of the Horn of Africa. When Somalia got its independence in 1960 until 1991 and the political authority had control over its territory waters, this phenomenon never occurred at any moment, likewise, in June 2006 until December 2007 when the regime of Islamic Courts took power in the country and succeeded in imposing its authority on the majority of the regions under one administration and restituted the rule of law, order and good governance piracy had been repressed and eradicated completely.

It is a cliché now that Somalia is stigmatised as a failed state, the truth is far from that. Yes, instability is the cause of piracy, but it was imposed on Somalia and it is a direct consequence of a super power rivalry in the Horn of Africa by the end of the last century, culminated in a proxy war waged by Somalia and Ethiopia in 1976-1977.

While Ethiopia received massive military assistance from the Soviet block and direct participation of their armed forces and especially Cubans, the West denied any aid to Somalia.

When the war ended, the West imposed arms embargo on Somalia at a time when Ethiopia was violating its borders, capturing vast areas of its territory and training and arming tribal Somali militias to destabilise and wreak havoc to the unity and integrity of the country.

Under the pressure of the military alliance between Ethiopia and Kenya supported by both East and West, the country could not sustain the heavy weight of the burden of military encroachments as well as economic depravation and the disintegration of national harmony perpetrated by the moribund repressive military regime. Ethiopia pursued its war inside Somalia by masterminding Somali militia factions to dismember the country and create divisive entities such as Somaliland and later on Putland. United States intervention in Somalia in 1993, with its heavy- handed military prowess had further aggravated a complicated and a difficult situation.

The mission was to relegated to Ethiopia, immediately after the American withdrawal and by continuously waging penitentiary campaigns across all Somalia against any movement aiming to restore national unity and Somali state, thus creating the exodus of Somali refugees across the world, internal displacement, famine, drought and the destruction of the economic infrastructure and Somali administrative institutions.

When Somali national groups succeeded in defeating warlords and taking over the reins of power in June 2006 and establishing peace, stability and the rule of law and order and the restoration of government institutions and security forces, once again the United States had invited Ethiopia which was already occupying vast areas of the country to wage another war of aggression against Somalia in December 2006.

Against all these odds, Somalia could not withstand. It succumbed to total collapse; any country exposed to similar challenges would have reacted similarly.

In a statement reported by Reuters on April 16, Acting U.S Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Philip Carter said, in reversal to the American approach towards Somalia, ‘We have learnt a lot in Somalia since 1990s, the real role of us is a supportive role and to be as helpful as we can in a catalytic manner so that the Somalis themselves can advance the peace forward’.

He went further to state: ‘we need to stabilise Somalia with an effective government that will address the security problems, the symptoms of which have been piracy’.

We welcome this review of the American policy towards Somalia. The American diplomat had touched the crux of the Somali dilemma.

Luckily, The United States has supported the U.N-brokered reconciliation process at Djibouti in December 2007 which ended in resounding success by concluding and achieving the pull-out of Ethiopian forces, setting up a government of national unity and the constitution of the Somali security forces.

This first serious and honest reconciliation process sponsored by international community and unanimously and wholeheartedly supported by the Somali people.

The United States took a leading role in convening an international conference held in Brussels on 23 April and headed by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for the purpose of mobilising the necessary funds to bolster Somali security capability, hence the fundamental stone for building peace and stability was laid down.

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* Mohamed Sharif Mohamud is a veteran Somali diplomat and analyst in the Horn of Africa and Middle East.

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Mohamed Sharif Mohamud is vice chairman, Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy, and former ambassador of Somalia and Arab League

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