Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates in Somalia by Knaan

Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates in Somalia
By K’Naan , URB Magazine. Posted April 14, 2009.

Can anyone ever really be for piracy? Well in Somalia, the answer is: it’s complicated.


knaanperformance-2251Can anyone ever really be for piracy? Outside of sea bandits, and young girls fantasizing of Johnny Depp, would anyone with an honest regard for good human conduct really say that they are in support of Sea Robbery? Well in Somalia, the answer is: it’s complicated. The news media these days has been covering piracy in the Somali coast, with such lopsided journalism that it’s lucky they’re not on a ship themselves. It’s true that the constant hijacking of vessels in the Gulf of Aden is a major threat to the vibrant trade route between Asia and Europe. It is also true that for most of the pirates operating in this vast shoreline, money is the primary objective. But according to many Somalis, the disruption of Europe’s darling of a trade route is just Karma biting a perpetrator in the butt. And if you don’t believe in Karma, maybe you believe in recent history. Here is why we Somalis find ourselves slightly shy of condemning our pirates.

Somalia has been without any form of a functioning government since 1991. And despite its failures, like many other toddler governments in Africa, sprung from the wells of post-colonial independence, bad governance and development loan sharks, the specific problem of piracy was put in motion in 1992.

After the overthrow of Siyad Barre, our charmless dictator of twenty-some odd years, two major forces of the Hawiye Clan came to power. At the time, Ali Mahdi, and General Mohamed Farah Aidid, the two leaders of the Hawiye rebels were largely considered liberators. But the unity of the two men and their respective sub-clans was very short-lived. It’s as if they were dumbstruck at the advent of ousting the dictator, or that they just forgot to discuss who will be the leader of the country once they defeated their common foe. A disagreement of who will upgrade from militia leader to Mr. President broke up their honeymoon. It’s because of this disagreement that we’ve seen one of the most devastating wars in Somalia’s history, leading to millions displaced and hundreds of thousands dead. But war is expensive and militias need food for their families, and Jaad (an amphetamine-based stimulant) to stay awake for the fighting. Therefore a good clan-based Warlord must look out for his own fighters. Aidid’s men turned to robbing aid trucks carrying food to the starving masses, and reselling it to continue their war. But Ali Mahdi had his sights set on a larger and more unexploited resource, namely: the Indian Ocean.

Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard. But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Progresso, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they could dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, where as in to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.

In 2004, after Tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury and chemical waste.” But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters, the UN Convoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia’s aquatic life. Now years later, that deterance has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to bury our nation’s death trap.

Now Somalia has upped the world’s pirate attacks by over 21 percent in one year, and while NATO and the EU are both sending forces to the Somali coast to try and slow down the attacks, Blackwater and all kinds of private security firms are intent on cashing in. But while Europeans are well in their right to protect their trade interest in the region, our pirates were the only deterrent we had from an externally imposed environmental disaster. No one can say for sure that some of the ships they are now holding for ransom were not involved in illegal activity in our waters. The truth is, if you ask any Somali if they think getting rid of the pirates only means the continuous rape of our coast by unmonitored Western vessels, and the production of a new cancerous generation, we would all fly our pirate flags high.

It is time that the world gave the Somali people some assurance that these Western illegal activities will end, if our pirates are to seize their operations. We do not want the EU and NATO serving as a shield for these nuclear waste-dumping hoodlums. It seems to me that this new modern crisis is a question of justice, but also a question of whose justice. As is apparent these days, one man’s pirate is another man’s coast guard.

K’naan is a Somali-Canadian poet, rapper and musician.

Below are links to the interviews we did with Knaan a couple of weeks before all this drama unfolded

In the first clip he talks about Somali Pirates

In the second clip he talks about the US attempts to classify Somalis here in the US as Terrorists



5 comments on “Why We Don’t Condemn Our Pirates in Somalia by Knaan

  1. Good story…it really puts things into perspective. This only goes to reinforce the fact that Africa as a whole is the rest of the world’s bitch and all the world’s leaders essentially perpetuate it’s poverty. These are the effects of global capitalism.

  2. interesting read, i didnt know about the environmental issues. however, it’s not clear how the pirates are deterring the rape of the coastline at this point, and according to k’naan, the toxic dumping was sanctioned in the first place by Somali warlords. while in principle i’m ok with the idea of modern-day Robin Hoods reversing the economic realities of underdeveloped nations, it’s pretty hard to justify utter and complete lawlessness. some of the ships being attacked carry food aid to Sudan and other regions, and the notion of an unregulated coast guard with no accountability whatsoever is far too anarchist to be considered noble. i’ll agree the issue is complicated, though. we should also remember that the heroic notion of piracy comes from Europeans in the first place. here’s something to think about next time you enjoy a Captain & Coke–Captain Morgan was a slave trader, thief, murderer and brigand who was made into a Jamaican national hero.

  3. I’m feeling what K’naan is saying. Let’s not forget that anytime someone rises up against the Western/eurocentricKKK establishment, they are automatically branded as pirates, terrorists, enemies of the state, and an assortment of other derogatory adjectives. What is one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    When I first heard this story, as I do with several other “news” stories, knowing the fallacious racist nature of the mainstream “newsmedia”, I felt instantly that there was a lot more to it than what the media was putting out there. I tell ya – one man loves pointin’ fingers at everybody else, but when fingers are pointed back at him, then he can’t take it and resorts to all kinds of silly-ass arbitrary measures.

    I also find it contradictory how many in this country (ameriKKKa) are so quick to condemn these Somali “pirates” but yet don’t say shit when Blackbeard, Cristobal Colon, Andrew Jackson (ask the indigenous people if he was a pirate – I think I’m siding with them on that), the “founding fathers”, Ysabella and Ferdinand, Queen Victoria, John Hawkins, those damn Pirates of The Carribean Movies, Gov. Dale (who sent a bunch of ILLEGAL and ALIEN europeans to colonize this continent in 1611, and we know what happened after that), Sir Geoffrey Amherst, the people that set up the state of Israel and those today who are still treating the Palestinians as slaves, and several others like that are celebrated. The aforementioned names are celebrated as heroes, liberators, explorers, and many other positive nouns and adjectives. Then again, when you reside in a stolen continent, run by the descendants of slavemasters, and when you have mass entropy and ignorance to go along with it to keep most of the masses ignorant to that fact, there will always be this racist hypocrisy.

  4. Pingback: If this is a Russian house cat, I don’t even want to see a Russian dog … « Doug’s Darkworld

  5. We all know the history of the european rape fo Africa.
    But robbery is wrong. Period. These men are not freedom fighters they are thieves. Even black people can and will steal.. Really just steal. I’m from Brooklyn and in Brooklyn some negros steal, In Africa some negros steal. They are not trying to advance the nation they are just criminals. Black Panther Party= revolutionary fredom fighters
    Somali pirates just like europeon prirates= theives
    I’m black and as a teenager sometimes I would just steal…Period.

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