Pirates Smuggle Somalia on to the Agenda

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

It has become fashionable among some of my colleagues in Nairobi to express irritation at the level of interest the world is showing in Somalia’s pirates. The argument is generally expressed by pointing out that Somalia has been a mess for 17 years, stands on the brink of a major humanitarian catastrophe and all of that is being ignored because hacks can throw around a few cliches about cutlasses and cannon. Then add in a few misguided descriptions of the pirates as modern day Robin Hoods providing a security service and the result is outrage from the new piracy experts. As Nick Wadhams puts it…

I hate to get all self-righteous, but c’mon, folks. As 52 NGO’s said today, half of Somalia’s 7 million people are in critical need of food aid. I thought the release was extraordinarily well-timed. Sobers you up a bit when you start feeling inclined to write another cute story about how you interviewed the pirates.

As usual, I take a more relaxed view. Who gives a stuff about Somalia any more? It has been a basketcase for 17 years and struggled through cycles of drought, famine and flooding while the gunmen continue to fight. Today it is a post-failed state that attracts world attention only when its Islamists threaten to take power. Millions of people need emergency aid just like they have done for almost two decades. News is news when it’s new. Somalia’s suffering is old hat. So if the pirates propel Somalia on to the news pages then that has to be a good thing. Plenty of people back home are hearing and thinking about Somalia for the first time probably since Black Hawk Down. The trick is to smuggle in some of the serious stuff just below your reference to Johnny Depp.
See also the DRC’s gorillas.