BY DR YUSUF AL- AZHARI
Whereas Somalis of good intention appreciate the concern and role played by international peace brokers in the horn of Africa and its environs, little known are hidden major obstacles on the restoration of peace in Somalia torn apart by civil strife for nearly two decades.
Fundamentalism, occupation of the seashore by foreign trawlers and piracy pose major threats to peace in Somalia than clan rivalries that seem to have overshadowed other major human interest stories in the media.
The Somali Pirate Conference laid bare the facts to the international community on the piracy menace, religious extremism and invasion of the Somali coast by trawlers. Pirates are not only a problem to maritime fleet but are a hindrance to humanitarian shipments. Humanitarian assistance including World Food Programme cargo cannot reach the hungry, the sick, the elderly, women and children in dire need of relief.
It is no exaggeration that peace and democracy are under serious threat by religious extremists but the media and mediators downplay the havoc wrecked by foreign trawlers and newfound allies – pirates on the one side and religious zealots on the other. While one group kills, maims or blackmails in the name of God, the other carries out atrocities in the name of commerce. Foreign trawlers and their allies inflict atrocities of a magnitude akin to those carried out by extremist Terrorist.
In the ensuing scramble for fishing rights in the seashore, innocent people lost lives, others maimed, fishing gears and boats destroyed in the bloody confrontation that never saw the light of day in the media. Violent lustful fortune seekers are the present day occupants of the tuna rich Somali sea coast which they occupied after a fierce bloody fight with the local fishermen. Policing the coastline is a risky undertaking by a weak government whose credibility is questionable and constantly challenged by ruthless gangs.
Consequently, Somalia’s 3,600 kilometre coastline is out of bounds for the feeble transitional Somali government and even its religious fundamentalist rivals cannot dare police the territorial waters. The seashore is today home to ruthless tax collectors from trawlers or heavily armed sea pirates capturing maritime fleets or fishing boats in the Somali territorial waters and at the Gulf of Aden.
Ransom in terms of million dollars is paid to the organised pirates who see this as more of a lucrative industry than many hours in the sea in search of fish. It is safe to conclude that the complicity between trawlers and pirates has compromised the security of the lawless nation.
Ship owners and trawlers seem to have given up on the fight against piracy menace and appear to have struck a silent deal with the pirates on peaceful co-existence in exchange for fishing rights. Trawlers pay taxes against daily catches while captured ship owners pay handsome ransom without much ado or publicity. Tax defaulters risk death in the hands of these lawless and extortionate gangs.
Condemned to destitution, fishermen resolved not to surrender their economic lifeline to the invading enemy. In the tactical retreat, fisher folk gave serious thoughts to alternative sources of livelihood but not far away from the sea. In the quest to survive, the one time prosperous fishermen returned to the shore smarter than the aggressor. Armed to the teeth, they ambushed the unsuspecting trawlers in a pitched battle in which lives were lost and property of unknown value destroyed.
In the circumstances, the invaders are not prepared to leave the Somali territorial waters in the foreseeable future and it is their prayer that peace remains elusive in the horn of Africa for a much longer time. The return of peace means huge losses of income to both the pirates and trawlers.
It is time that Somalis in the country and the Diaspora to campaign for a strong, viable and visionary government that would view clans as part of the territory and involve the same in the fight against external and internal terror gangs. A strong leader of impeccable credentials and exposure and above everything else, a non egocentric patriot with a new clear vision is required for steer the country out of Its present quagmire, It is in these campaigns that Somalis appeal to the international community not to lose sight of trawlers and terrorists as a fresh threat to peace and political stability. Time to go for durable peace is now not tomorrow because silence could be costly not only to Somalia but to the region as well.
(Dr Yusuf Al-Azhari is an accomplished Somali civil servant and career diplomat. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)