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, the pirates have accused European multi-national corporations (specifically, Swiss and Italian) of dumping toxic waste (radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, and mercury) off the coast of Somalia.
One pirate crew is demanding $8 million for a Ukranian ship which was hijacked while moving tanks to fractious Sudan 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. The people of Puntland have radiation sickness now. They report skin infections, abdominal bleeding, and strange bleedings at the mouth. Animals, fish and livestock have also become sick and died. And with such an untidy brew of chemicals in the sea this may only be the beginning of a long and drawn-out health crisis. 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.”
– Nick Nuttall, UNEP
This all came to light by 2005 at the latest, and no one took action against it. A UN report was prepared and buried under dozens of other UN reports chronicling the devastation of humanity.
On the one hand we have a bunch of starving people with guns. And on the other, you have very wealthy people without guns going right past them on big boats. Any system tends to equilibrium, and so, before too long, a balance was struck whereby the hungry people got something to eat, while the wealthy people got the guns pointed in their faces.
But “the last thing the world needs right now,” says the Economist Magazine, “is disruption of one of its busiest shipping lanes and a spike in insurance premiums.” You can see more double-dealings with Africa glossed over elsewhere in the mainstream press. Some are saying this is the most booty ever captured by pirates anywhere at any time in history. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Sirius Star is carrying only about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi oil. Either 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 negative externalities.
What else? Blood money and weapons sent by the CIA to finance secular Somali clans empowered “the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize” since the 1990s. 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. Arms, military matériel and financial support continue to “flow like a river to these various actors,” according to a UN Security Council report in 2006. Even as the CIA is secretly encouraging carnage all over the country, armed American, British, Ethiopian, and Eritrean forces (as well as private security contractors) have been very openly blasting Somali fishing villages to pieces in their search for shadowy bin Ladens.
The recent leak of the Al Qaeda Network Exord stated that US forces had long been operating “frequently” in 15 to 20 countries without Congressional approval, and against ineffective UN rulings. 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 just “occasionally” dropped in to assess air strike results.
Curiously, the mainstream media conclude that the cause of Somalia’s problems is the persistence of none of the aforementioned injustices, but “anarchy”. Now that they have mine and your attention, Somalia is an opportunity for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to unveil the facade of “peace-keeping” imperialism in Africa and the effects of environmental racism all over the world. The comments of anarchists are relevant. Anarchist Derrick Jensen, in his book Endgame, writes,
“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.”