Somalia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While international eyes scorn the recent hijackings of over 40 shipping vessels off Somalia’s coast and berate the perceived “lawlessness” of the pirates who hold them for millions of dollars ransom, Somalis themselves seem more concerned about the destruction of human life caused by corporations and blood money from Western governments.
Al Jazeera reported that the pirates accused European multi-national corporations of dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia. These wastes include radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, and mercury. One pirate crew whom they apparently spoke to is demanding $8 million for a Ukranian ship and claims the money will go towards toxic clean-up. Other ships, like the Sirius Star – a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of Saudi crude oil – are being held for over $30 million ransom.
“The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.” – Somali Pirate
When the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia, it washed up toxic materials onto the shores of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia where some of the hijackers live, exposing decades of cheap and out-of-sight dumping that took place in the Horn of Africa since the 1980s. Puntland’s residents have now become sick with skin infections, abdominal bleeding, and strange bleeding at the mouth. With such an untidy brew of chemicals there, the symptoms Somalis are showing now may only be the beginning of a long and drawn-out health crisis. Animals are livestock have also become sick and died. Nick Nuttall, a United Nations Environmental Program spokesperson, reiterated the pirates’ point, adding that, “there is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”
I would name this entire international story about “piracy” a farce. The real story behind the pirates is the slow death of Somali health and well-being and the betrayal of our aquatic environment. The pirates are therefore acting in a manner similar to Robin Hood and Little John, or at the very least like an anti-imperialist Coast Guard. Juxtapose this with the West’s perception of the pirates as unruly buccaneers, scalawags and jokers who are “possibly linked to al-Qaeda“, and the framing of this situation as another “counter-terrorism” story.
The last thing the world needs right now,” writes the Economist Magazine, “is disruption of one of its busiest shipping lanes and a spike in insurance premiums.” The last thing the world needs, on the contrary, is to gloss over its double-dealings with Africa. The world business community can continue to view the disruption as an “outrageous” act of opportunistic thievery, or it can view the disruption as the price they must pay for years of neglected externalities. The latest hijackings have raised the stakes for capitalism on the high seas, but it’s worth pointing out that the Sirius Star is carrying only about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi oil. Still, never once has the Economist mentioned why the hijackings occurred.
For years the blood money and weapons designed by the CIA to finance secular Somali clans empowered “the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize.” And because the American chain-of-command is so impervious to criticism, when a US State Department official, Michael Zorzick, criticized the CIA-backed warlordism in Somalia, he was transferred to Chad from his post in Mogadishu. According to a UN Security Council report, as recently as 2006 arms, military matériel and financial support continued to “flow like a river to these various actors.”
American, British, Ethiopian, and Eritrean forces, as well as private security contractors, have meanwhile been blasting Somali fishing villages to pieces in their search for bin Laden. The recent leak of the Al Qaeda Network Exord exposed United States forces which had been operating “frequently” in 15 to 20 countries without Congressional approval, and against ineffective UN rulings, since 2004. One of those 15 to 20 countries had been Somalia. The New York Times wrote that “members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of al Qaeda.” Firing missiles into villages from remote locations, as the Times article states, American forces only “occasionally” dropped in to assess air strike results. We of course know nothing about the gruesome details of any covert US operation in Somalia.
We are living, once again, at a time when Somalia is making headlines. What is interesting in the present connection is that the mainstream media have reached the conclusion that the cause of Somalia’s problems is the persistence of “anarchy,” as if every armed conflict in Africa were an opportunity to exploit or blame the political philosophy of anarchism. Instead, these conflicts are opportunities for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to exploit the facade of “peace-keeping” imperialism in Africa and the effects of environmental racism.
But since they asked, anarchism certainly has something to say about the conflict, and the comments of anarchists are relevant. This is a quote from Derrick Jensen’s latest book, Endgame:
“Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”