Sunday, November 20, 2011

War in Somaliland - will it end Piracy or increase the woes of starvation


It is often said that a Nation’s culture and history determines the way people live ! -  there could always be pronounced exceptions.

Places like Eyl, Hargesis would not have been popularly known to the World, a couple of decades ago – now they are the places in news for wrong reasons most time.  The coastal town of Eyl is the site of many historical artifacts from Somalia's pre-colonial period.  Hargeisa is a city in the northwestern region of Somalia and is the capital of Somaliland, a self-declared republic that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. There is also the Puntland, a territory declared autonomous state, bordered by  Somaliland, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and Ethiopia.

There could be many flaws in a democracy but an elected Government, or any Government for that matter is an exhibition of orderliness and not anarchy.  Perhaps that is what we should feel happy when you read more and more scams and inefficient governance in our Country. 

Somaliland unilaterally declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991, after the fall of the country's military strongman, Mohamed Siad Barre.  The Country has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. It is a land of lawlessness and paradox.  Money flows freely gained from sea – not by fishing but from piracy – so those who own it are filthily rich, but these are the Nations that are exemplarily poor showcasing only their travails to the World.  It is stated that the country possesses new shining cars, satellite phones, and extravagant living by men – but women are ill-treated.  The Nation’s literacy is falling down and there are not many industries.   Criminalism can only harm the Nation would soon be understood but by then – the land would be close to a point of no return.

Pirates of Somalia  run sophisticated operations using the latest hi-tech equipment such as satellite phones and GPS. They are also heavily armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.  They use speedboats with very powerful outboard motors to approach their target. Sometimes the speedboats are launched from much larger "mother ships" on the high seas and they have even managed to seize enormous oil tankers.  They have fired at ships, killed people and done everything to get ransom.  Years of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people.

Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia are exhibits of  Africa's worst humanitarian crisis: aid agencies warn that millions face starvation.  The long-standing absence of authority in the country has led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and has prompted Nato to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation.  They are facing the worst drought in six decades which is forcing millions of people on the verge of starvation, tens of thousands have fled to nearby regions in search of food. 

Nearer lies, Ethiopia – often displayed as yet another poor country with starving population.  It is  Africa's oldest independent country. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.  It is known to the modern World as a Nation of droughts and famines and engaged in long war with Eritrea.  Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia  in 1993 following a referendum. Poor border demarcation developed into military conflict and full-scale war in the late 1990s in which tens of thousands of people were killed.  It is a non-oil economy and exports Coffee. 

A war is never welcome and can bring alongside untold miseries.  But when a country where there  is only anarchy and which has caused turmoil  for the International Community  is attacked, – those engaged in Shipping in the Gulf of Horn should welcome it.  But it is not a war of NATO or any other stronger country by Somalia trying to crush piracy but a war from across the border as it happens quite frequently. 
There are reports of Ethiopian troops entering into Somalia.  Ethiopian authorities have denied the incursion. Their soldiers have not been in Somalia in large numbers since 2009 when they withdrew after a controversial three-year presence.  These reports come as Kenyan troops continue their efforts to defeat fighters of the Islamist group al-Shabab in the south of Somalia.  But there are reports that seemingly this would be the largest Ethiopian deployment since the 2009 withdrawal which followed an invasion that was very unpopular with ordinary Somalis. It may not be panacea as when attacked from outside, the smaller groups of the Nation have something to unite and consolidate, which can harm the International interests.  Although al-Shabab's strict version of Islamic law is unpopular with most people, that does not mean Somalis will welcome Kenyan and Ethiopian soldiers. This could hamper their effort to defeat the militants.

A war at this juncture would jeopardise the efforts to get food to victims of the drought and famine.  Due to wrong governance, and the inflicted mindset of the people over there, millions face imminent starvation whilst the International Community continues to fear the risks of sailing through the Gulf of Africa. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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