Â Kayse Jama attended the initial meeting to form a "Black Immigration Network" two weeks ago in Baltimore, Maryland. (Urban Perspective 4/30/09) Kayse is a forceful, articulate advocate for human rights and the rights of people of African descent who reside in the United States. Well informed on the plight of his native Somalia, he provides compelling insight into Somalia's current condition, including exploitation of its coastal waters by foreign vessels.
Kayse is executive director of the non-profit Center for Intercultural Organizing in Portland, Oregon. The following are excerpts from his commentary, "Somalia's Anguish: Nation Needs the World's Help," (OregonLive.com, April 24, 2009.) This perspective is virtually absent in the plethora of U.S. mainstream media stories on Somali pirates:Â Â
"...When I was a young child in the Muslim country of Somalia, Friday was our holy day and picnicking families enjoyed the scenery of fishermen emerging from their small wooden engine-less boats, men and woman rushing toward them to get the best deals on fresh fish. This is a Somalia of long ago, in a country now abandoned.
Here in my new country, people think of Somalia and they think of "Black Hawk Down." Or these days, it's about pirates, and they ask me what I think of the capture of that U.S. ship? What can I say to this? Like any other Portlander, any American-like anyone with a heart, really-I'm happy that Capt. Richard Phillips and his crew returned home safely and are with their families. At the same time, as a Somali-American, I see things a bit differently because of the Somalia I know. Even in the Diaspora, we know Somalia intimately because people here and there are in constant touch through cell phones, online news sites, etc.
The beaches no longer bustle with families or fishermen. Now, large metal containers seeping toxic waste wash ashore, along with thousands of dead fish, and more and more babies are born with deformities. The poisoned and overfished waters have deprived local Somalia fishermen of their livelihoods. Many have reported harassment, others outright attacks by foreign vessels. The multinational forces patrolling the seas cannot tell the difference between criminals and fishermen, treating all Somalias as if they were pirates. In order to defend their coastline, local militias and Somalia fishermen collaborated to stop these criminal activities by capturing these vessels and demanding compensation from the owners, originally in the form of fines. The scheme quickly shifted to 21st century piracy. But, why?
The ordinary Somali believes that the country's current piracy problem has a direct correlation to the illegal activities committed against them, the lack of an international response and the absence of a centralized Somalia government. Since 2000, two of the three transitional governments in Somalia have failed and the third is struggling. Basic services such as education, employment, security and health care do not exist.
If we want to resolve the piracy at sea, the international community has to employ approaches that resolve the destitute situation on land. Far less time and money could be spent on this effort if the focus was put on helping the current Somalia unity government develop its security forces. Instead of militarizing Somalia waters with foreign ships, let's train and equip local police and a functioning navy and sailors who can, at the same time, take home a paycheck and proudly defend their country.
At the same time, the international community needs to provide resources and technical assistance for the Somalia government to take full control of the country, enabling it to provide basic services to its citizens and opportunities for youth to find alternative ways of earning income.
To build trust among the Somalia people and the world they feel abandoned them, open an international criminal investigation to identify and punish corporations and governments that dumped their waste in Somalia's coastal waters. Stop illegal fishing and help local fishermen to re-establish their industry. In return, the Somalia government and its people must help the international community to completely eliminate piracy and hold offenders accountable. If done in a transparent manner, these solutions can finally create sustainable peace in Somalia. Without these basic steps, no international force will be able to put an end to Somalia piracy.
I want to imagine the beaches in Somalia can again become the busy hubs of local commerce they once were, with children playing soccer in the sand and families jostling for fresh fish. With the world's attention on my forgotten country, long-awaited peace and justice may be possible."Â Â Â (
Larry Aubry can be reached at