West to blame for Somali piracy

The escalation in piracy attacks by Somali gangs is a consequence of poor judgement exercised by Western powers in replacing an Islamist government with warlords who have no interest in peace.

Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The decision to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 was backed by the East African nations of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Ethiopia sent its own army to occupy Central Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu.

With the port of Mombasa under threat from Somali pirates, Kenya must be regretting its decision. Then again, the fear of Islam could blind the Kenyan authorities to the realities of Somalia.

By mid 2006, the UIC had won control of central and southern Somalia from clan warlords. A great chunk of Somali territory came under the UIC after joint consultations with respective clan elders. After 16 years of lawlessness, Somalis were finally ready for peace.

After taking over Mogadishu, the UIC began consolidating a home-grown administration. Courts were formed to administer justice and arbitrate between the people. Police forces were set up, checkpoints were abolished altogether. The prices of consumer goods dropped drastically because it was no longer necessary for businessmen to bribe bandits who used to place road blocks at every street corner.

More relevant to this story, the UIC completely stopped sea piracy during its short tenure of office. Piracy in Somalia is controlled by criminal gangs with some affiliation to ethnic militia. These are exactly the kind of groups UIC wanted to stop in order to bring lasting peace to Somali people.

With the end of lawlessness in Somalia, a mini-boom emerged. People returned to long-abandoned suburbs of Mogadishu. Business people living in exile in the Middle East began returning to Somalia. Aid shipments, which had stopped because of rampant piracy perpetrated by warlords, resumed. Rehabilitation works began at the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayu.

Alas, the fear of Islam in the region began taking hold. Kenyans are known to be skeptics but when it comes to Islam, it’s easy to believe anything thrown their way. Kenyans were told that the UIC wanted to conquer the whole East African and create an Islamic Caliphate, where everyone would be forcefully converted to Islam.

The propaganda machine was incredible considering that the UIC did not even manage to control the whole of Somalia. The northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland were still outside the UIC.

UIC, perhaps, made a mistake by getting involved in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. By accepting weapons from Eritrea, the UIC drew the wrath of Ethiopia. It was not long before the Ethiopian Army drove into Somalia in December 2006, with the assistance of US intelligence and AC-130 cannon fire.

Needless to say, chaos engulfed Somalia from January 2007. The UIC top command fled to Eritrea as rank and file were annihilated from the air, the ground and the sea. Kenya blocked its borders to fleeing refugees, as suspected UIC fighters were arrested at Ras Kamboni. Many of the detainees were sent to Ethiopia.

The Transitional Federal Government took its time moving into Mogadishu. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has always preferred living in Nairobi. The irony of Somali’s Transitional Government is that its President is himself a warlord who declared Puntland a separate state. Inspite of leading the transitional government, the ailing President and his allies have not allowed the transitional government to exercise authority over Puntland.

Now, the interesting part is that most of Somali piracy is centered in Puntland. The region controlled by militia loyal to the Somali president is the same region where pirates are running amok! Is this a coincidence? It is very difficult to understand why the international community does not see the link between piracy in Somalia and the impotence of the transitional government. The Transitional Government is nothing more than a collection of ethnic warlords that have brought Somalia into global notoriety as a failed state. Why anyone expected the same people to unite and bring peace to suffering Somalis remains a mystery.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost for the Western world. Ships are getting attacked almost daily inspite of an armada of naval vessels in the Indian Ocean. Top Western naval commanders have publicly stated that there’s nothing much they can do about piracy without infringing on Somali’s sovereignty.

Kenya is also paying the price for its sins. The latest pirate hijacking took place not far from the port of Mombasa. Unless peace is restored to Somalia, there’s increasing likelihood that Kenya’s coast could be overrun by Somali pirates. Shipping activity to the entire East and Central African region will be paralyzed. Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The next best option is to accept the reality of Islamic-led government in Somalia. An Islamic government cannot be a threat to the region because the problems in Somalia require hundreds of years to solve. They will need to rebuild roads, schools, power supply, water systems, judiciary, parliament and the rest of the institutions associated with governance. An Islamic government in Somalia will have neither the time nor resources to create the so-called Caliphate of Horn of Africa.

The Islamists have proved through practical action that they can eradicate piracy, smuggling and drugs trade in Somalia if given the chance. Well, the imposition of Sharia law certainly sends shivers across the Western world but a country that has been in chaos for 17 years needs a radical solution. Western style democracy cannot work in Somalia under the present circumstances of explosions, kidnappings and clan warfare. It’s better to have a strict government than no government at all.

One Somali migrant to Yemen was asked why his people risked crossing the Gulf of Aden only to land in the Middle East’s poorest country. The migrant answered that it is better to live in a poor country with peace than a rich country in chaos.

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