Friday, April 17, 2009

Disease or Symptom?

It's all over the news; not a day goes by without some item on the Somali piracy situation. What is going on there? Why so many acts of piracy coming from such a small country? How come we seem unable to do anything to eradicate it?
Oh, we talk about military escorts for ships, take a hard line with the pirates we do catch, discuss means for ships to protect themselves but, in the end, it still seems that a ship is attacked almost every day.
So, where do we go from here? We can, using an approach dear to our western medical field, focus on alleviating the symptom. After all, it is much faster and much, much simpler to zero in on the symptom than to actually attempt to determine, understand and fight the disease that brings about the symptoms; the true underlying cause.
Piracy, other than in movies and children's books, is rarely an end in itself. I don't believe one chooses to be a pirate if honest, simpler and less dangerous means to earn a living exist. Accepting this, unless Somalis are genetically programmed to be pirates or they actually enjoy risking their lives to take control of ships, there more to this situation than meets the eye.
A bit of history of Somalia: for thousands of years, the region, populated by a various clans and ethnic groups, was sometimes united, sometimes divided. In the 19th century period, it was first "colonised" by Britain and Italy. Later, the French also joined in. Although there were various resistance movements during the period, the region remained divided in two territories: the north under British rule and the south Italian. This situation lasted until the early 1960s when both territories achieved Independence and united as the Somalia Republic. With independence inter-clan rivalries resurfaced, leading to assassinations, coup d'états, lawlessness and, ultimately civil war. Civil war brought about famine and, with famine, came piracy.
Thus, piracy is but a symptom of a much bigger problem. Attempting to eliminate it without addressing the bigger issue is a futile exercise. As long as desperation exists in Somalia, there will always be young people willing to risk their lives to better their existence and that of their families.
If we are really serious about reducing or eliminating piracy, we will need to address the issues of a country that has been at war for decades, has suffered through droughts and famines, and has seen generations of citizens know nothing other than basic survival. Obviously, it will not be easy: taking two aspirins to get rid of the headache is a lot simpler than dealing with the stress that caused it in the first place...


  1. this is an interesting article, written in 2007 that you might find interesting...

  2. Very good article. It always seems to come back to the same-old same-old doesn't it...