THE azure waters at the foot of the Red Sea lapping southwards round the Horn of Africa are now the most dangerous in the world. This year pirates have captured more than 60 ships. Recently a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks was captured by Somali buccaneers (see article). The reason for this swirl of maritime outlawry can be found on the nearest shore, in Somalia.
Until the world’s most comprehensively failed state acquires the barest modicum of order and government, the seas beside it will be a paradise for pirates and a menace to passengers, crew and cargo, even for ships sailing 300 miles offshore. Yet maritime outrages, though they help remind the world of the disaster that is Somalia, are only one reason to do something about the place. A more important one is that Somalia’s people do not enjoy a scrap of security, let alone any of the material benefits of a modern state. And a final one is that the outside world helped tip Somalia into chaos.
The prescriptions for dealing with piracy are simple enough. Governments must co-operate more energetically to face down pirates and, where necessary, blast them out of the water. A coalition of countries already has a naval task-force in the area, mainly to tackle terrorism; its numbers should be bumped up and a sea lane that can be properly monitored should be defined. Ships taking food to Somalia for the UN must have a naval escort. The EU should strengthen its tiny naval cell that co-ordinates air and sea activity. The UN, along with the African Union (AU), should organise a coast guard to watch Somalia’s shore. The Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia, should fulfil their vague promises to help pay for Somalia’s recovery.
But the harder, underlying problem is Somalia itself. With no proper government since 1991, it has been a bloody kaleidoscope of competing clans and fiefs. More than 1m, in a population once around 10m, have fled abroad; this year alone, the UN reckons, some 160,000 have been uprooted from Mogadishu, the capital, which has lost about two-thirds of its inhabitants over the years. The country is too dangerous for foreign charities, diplomats or journalists to function there permanently. Thousands of angry, rootless, young Somalis are proving vulnerable to the attractions of fundamentalist Islam in the guise of al-Qaeda and similar jihadist brands. The cash from piracy is probably fuelling the violence.
In recent times Somalia has known order only briefly, in 2006, when Islamists known as the Islamic Courts Union took over. Unfortunately next-door Ethiopia, egged on by the Americans, intervened to oust them. A “transition federal government” has totally failed to impose itself. A feeble AU force has tried in vain to help. With the UN unable to drum up even half the heralded force supposed to keep the peace in Sudan’s ravaged Darfur region, no one has the guts or cash to send a serious force to bring order, let alone justice, to Somalia.
And yet outsiders could still help Somalis to help themselves. A “dialogue” that started in nearby Djibouti between most of the warring factions has been going on intermittently for more than a year; the more moderate Islamists from the Courts Union must be brought in, even if the harder-line affiliates of al-Qaeda cannot be. The UN, Western governments and those in the region have a moral duty not to give up trying to bring Somalis together. Besides, wretched as it is, Somalia can cause a lot of trouble—on land and at sea. It is a disaster that the rest of the world cannot shrug off.
6 months ago