I dedicate this week to my brothers and sisters of the great nation of Somalia. I know that one day peace will return and so will the children of this nation to their homeland. The Somali are a resilient people who have a rich heritage and form one of the oldest societies and civilizations in Africa. I especially pray for the thousands of Somali who cross the Gulf of Aden every year in search for a better life. Many end up loosing their lives at sea while the rest trudge on in search for a new beginning. There are no promises. And for those who choose to remain, I salute you. Lastly, for those we have chosen to label as pirates. Let us sit and ask ourselves where it all started. Only then, can we find a solution.
Every year during the first week of Zul-Hijjah, the eleventh month of the Islamic calendar, a woman in black robes is seen kneeling in prayer on the beach along the ancient harbour of Hobyo in Northern Somalia. She covers herself fully that only her eyes can be seen. Those who have had the privilege of facing her claim hers are the coldest and darkest eyes they have ever seen. Some say she is an evil Jin. There is an urban legend that she can steal one’s soul if you dare look into her eyes. No one knows where she comes from or where she goes after praying. She has followed this ritual for the past 10 years. A few metres from where she prays, are shrines marked by piles of sandstone…
Her name is Ayaan Haweeyo, a top member of the National Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia (NVCG). In the free world, Ayaan and her organization are called ‘pirates’. She comes to remember, pray , meditate and renew a promise. A promise that she will not rest until she takes back what once belonged to her land. The shrines represent her family whom she lost when she was 10. She has been fighting since then. Her heart is cold and conscience is a state that she can hardly recall. Only death can free her from the tempest that churns her lifeless heart. Concealed in her robes is her rifle. She is a warrior. She is known as ‘The Judge’. She dispenses justice in the high seas on behalf of the Somali people and her family. A justice she believes, is long overdue.
In 1991, after the defeat of Siad Barre by Farrah Aidid during the Somali revolution, Ayaan’s family moved further north to Hobyo from Benadir to escape the ensuing unrest. Her father was a fisherman while her mother stayed home and took care of them. In the years that followed, the increase in civil unrest made it hard for local fishermen as the open waters grew unsafe for fishing. Life was hard and in the famine that followed, Ayaan’s father and other local fishermen had to sneak out to sea every night in order to provide food for their families.
One morning in 1994 during the second month of Safar, Ayaan’s younger brother woke up with a high fever. In the days that followed, the young child started bleeding from the mouth and became bedridden. Ayaan’s parents took him to a nearby clinic for treatment unfortunately, the local UN doctors could not save the young child’s life. Eventually,young Mohamed died at the age of five. No cause. No explanation.
A few months later, her second youngest sister Hawa developed a strange skin disease that discolored her skin and caused painful boils. The young child was in so much pain that even covering her in the lightest sheets made her scream as her skin had become overly sensitive. They tried taking her to every doctor they could find but to no avail. She eventually went into shock and died on the first day of fasting in the month of Ramadhan at only seven years of age.
The remaining family was devastated. As they tried to piece up what had happened, Ayaan’s father decided that they would move south to Kismayo to ward off the ‘bad luck’. On the eve of the day that they were supposed to relocate, Ayaan’s father did not return home from fishing. Early the next day, Ayaan and her mother were visited by a relative who broke the news that her father had been killed by an American patrol boat in the high seas, suspected of being a pirate. It was too much too bear. The young Ayaan and her mother mourned bitterly in the days that followed not knowing what to do or where to go. As if the suffering was not enough, death came knocking yet another time and Ayaan’s mother died of a mixture of abdominal haemorage and heartbreak in the month that followed. Ayaan was alone. She had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. She decided to join the rebels as a soldier against the the american led Unified Task Force. By this time, it was widely believed that the Americans were using peace keeping as a way of controlling Somalia’s vast portions of unexplored oil fields.
As the war in the rest of the country raged on, reports started flowing in of strange diseases similar to the ones which had taken their two children. There were rumors that they had been caused by the toxic waste dumped of the Somali coast by european ships. Months before, some humanitarian aid workers had warned people of eating fish from the Indian ocean citing that it contained high levels of radiation. The main cause of the strange diseases. People were dying everywhere and fishermen were disappearing at sea.
At some point such health cases became so common that the Somali population along the coast started believing that the rumors were true. In addition, the fishing waters that rightfully belonged to the Somali were taken over by western and asian trawlers who had taken advantage of Somalia’s unrest to fish illegally.
Ayaan’s story is shared by thousands of Somalis around the world. Some of whom are members of various armed outfits that patrol the waters off the Somali coast and as far as Yemen. As the sun sets on the Somali waters, about a thousand Somalis in deferent gangs patrol the waters of the Indian ocean fearlessly to attack and take hostage ships passing through these parts of the ocean. They later demand for ransom often running into millions of dollars for the release of the ships and their crew. For some of these militia, it is for the love of their country. Others are motivated by the huge sums of money that come in ransom. For others like Ayaan, it is the pain of unnecessary loss that drives them. All in all, we bundle all of these groups up and call them Pirate. My Somali brothers pronounce the same same word differently. It sounds something like “Ba-i-rate”. Bairate
Here are some of my Research Notes and some of their sources
• Following the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, there have emerged allegations that after the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in late 1991, Somalia’s long, remote shoreline was used as a dump site for the disposal of toxic waste. The huge waves which battered northern Somalia after the tsunami are believed to have stirred up tonnes of nuclear and toxic waste that was illegally dumped in Somali waters by several European firms. The European Green Party followed up these revelations by presenting before the press and the European Parliament in Strasbourg copies of contracts signed by two European companies—the Italian Swiss firm, Achair Partners, and an Italian waste broker, Progresso—and representatives of the warlords then in power, to accept 10 million tonnes of toxic waste in exchange for $80 million (then about £60 million). According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment mission, there are far higher than normal cases of respiratory infections, mouth ulcers and bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages and unusual skin infections among many inhabitants of the areas around the northeastern towns of Hobbio and Benadir on the Indian Ocean coast—diseases consistent with radiation sickness. UNEP continues that the current situation along the Somali coastline poses a very serious environmental hazard not only in Somalia but also in the eastern Africa sub-region. – Wikipedia (Piracy in Somalia)
• “It is a response to greedy Western nations, who invade and exploit Somalia’s water resources illegally. It is not a piracy, it is self defence.” – Muammar Al-Gaddaffi
• “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there”, and “European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.” -Nick Nuttall, United Nations Environmental Programme,