A Somali pirate rang the BBC last week demanding a ransom for a British couple who have been kidnapped from their yacht. He said, “We only need a little amount of $7 million.”
He explained this was reasonable, because “Nato operations had a lot of negative impact here.
“They have destroyed a lot of equipment belonging to the poor local fishermen. They arrest fishermen and destroy their equipment.
“So when you consider the damage and all the people affected we say the amount is not big.”
His words say something about the real situation in the country.
The central government in Somalia collapsed in 1991 after the country had been used as a pawn in the Cold War for decades.
Imperial intervention continued with an abortive US incursion after 1992.
The 2006 invasion by Ethiopia destroyed the most serious attempt at establishing a government.
The waters off the coast are rich in fish, particularly tuna. In 1990, some 30,000 fishermen made their livings from the sea.
Many pirates are former fishermen who started trying to “tax” visiting boats that were pushing them out of business.
Large European-owned fleets operate in the waters off Somalia.
Pirate activity is cutting into their profits, but many Somalis see the fleets as the thieves – harvesting a vital resource while the local population is left with nothing.
Shockingly, Western companies have also used the waters off the coast to dump canisters of toxic waste. Evidence of this emerged after the 2004 tsunami.
“It appears that the tsunami broke open the containers and scattered a lot of these toxic substances around,” Nick Nuttall of the United Nations Environment Programme told the BBC’s Focus on Africa.
“We are talking about radioactive chemicals, heavy metals, medical waste. You name it.”
Piracy will not solve Somalia’s problems.
But the pirates’ explanation of what is happening is far more honest and convincing than the hypocritical outpourings from the Western media and politicians.