Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chasing pirates in Africa

Jeffrey Gettleman, who writes for the New York Times, has a story up today about his time chasing pirates on the deck of an Italian Navy ship.  According to international reports, piracy more than doubled in 2008, and will continue to do so.

Everyone understands that, Johnny Depp franchises aside, pirates are bad, but Gettleman also delves into the somewhat sensitive territory of why they might be good.  In particular, he says pirate revenue supports several Somali villages that otherwise get no assistance from their weak central government.

A story by Dina Ezzat in Egypt's Al-Ahram covers the problem in more detail: the Somali government is on the brink of failure, and other countries hesitate to intervene because they don't want to ignite an international conflict.  Ezzat says pirates kidnap humanitarian aid shipments as well as trade vessels.  Keep in mind, though, that Egypt stands to lose a lot of revenue if the pirate situation isn't stopped and shippers detour their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.  So they have a vested interest in whatever intervention is necessary to stop Somali piracy.

Meanwhile, a Reuters story in Somalia's Hiiran suggests that the economic crisis will starve the poorest residents of the world, leading to food riots.  A mere fraction of the money that has gone into the financial rescue packages worldwide could make a huge difference.

"It is an issue of global peace and security," said the Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

To recap:  Driven by poverty and lack of government oversight, some poor Somalis have started to earn a lucrative living through piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the Horn of Africa. By doing this, however, the pirates are driving shipping revenue away from Egypt, a state already "worried by the expanding influence of political Islam."  Should further financial woes beset Egypt, one can only assume that this would bolster their own more militant groups (an example personified best by a pre-invasion Iraq).  The Egyptian government would like to intervene in Somalia, but this would look opportunistic when that country has already suffered so many decades of war.  Meanwhile, foreign governments have put much of their financial werewithal into financial bailouts, worried about "systemic risk" to the world economy.  Even a fraction of the bailout money would have made a major difference to poor nations, according to the UN World Food Programme.  It's safe to assume that they include Somalia in "poor nations", since it is already at risk of "security" issues such as food riots and the growth of terrorism due to desperate poverty.  But on the other hand, even if foreign governments had donated this money to the World Food Programme, the aid would never have reached the poor citizens of Somalia because of the pirates who have sprung up and are currently helping give money to the poor people of Somalia.

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