Somalia is proving a scary example of how no economy can grow and become sustainable to the exclusion of locals, writes Victor Kgomoeswana.
I found the resurgence of piracy ominously coincidental, considering the hype surrounding radical economic transformation in South Africa. My frustration with the quality of debate in our country is that playing the man is a much more appealing sport than playing the ball; but back to that later.
Ishan Tharoor, writing for Time, aptly described Somali pirates as “not desperate bandits, experts say, rather savvy opportunists in the most lawless corner of the planet”.
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Why would fishermen turn to pirates and carry out the most daring attacks, claiming close to $200 million in ransom?
Since the collapse of the government in Somalia in 1991, Tharoor writes, “Somali waters have become the site of an international free-for-all, with fishing fleets from around the world illegally plundering Somali stocks and freezing out the country’s own rudimentarily-equipped fishermen”.
He quotes a UN report, estimating that about $300 million worth of seafood was stolen from the coast of Somalia annually. Sounds familiar?
Global giants use their power, experience and networks to marginalise locals and plausibly explain their unfair advantage as globalisation. African governments respond more enthusiastically to international investors than to their own people - who are patient and understanding, but can turn nasty when disillusioned.
The International Crime Commission and the International Maritime Bureau reported in 2014 that “piracy has reached its lowest levels in six years, with 264 attacks worldwide in 2013, a 40% drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011”.
The active intervention by the international community, meant the Horn of Africa could breathe again; briefly. Regrettably, the intervention was merely to protect their cargo and crew or contain Al Qaeda, not to help the people of Somalia.
Now, piracy seems on the rise again in Somalia (and President Donald Trump is talking tough), after it was tamed from 2014 as a result of international patrols. Ransom payable got unbearable and maritime traffic became too risky or too expensive to insure, rich nations of the world got involved to stem the piracy in Somali waters.
This, however, did not address the core of the problem: securing the interests of the little guy in Somalia, toiling daily to support their family; someone like Ahmed Mohammed Ali.
This 27-year old fisherman from Durduri told Jessica Hatcher of Al Jazeera in October 2015 that he had had to abandon fishing because although anti-hijacking patrols had stopped piracy, the big illegal fishing boats had returned. These were the same boats that had triggered piracy in the first place.
In Africa, our leaders tend to react more enthusiastically to the World Economic Forum or Fitch or the World Bank.
Roads get resurfaced and services improved when the Commonwealth comes to town; but when a service delivery protest erupts in a small village, the leaders get dismissed for their ingratitude or are accused of being somebody else’s political pawn.
When black South Africans complained about Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) not delivering broad-based benefits, some in the ruling party got so defensive. Phrases like “there is nothing wrong with black people getting rich” or even “I did not struggle to be poor” were echoed.
As factually valid as these were, they missed the point: the majority were asking for their share of the gig, and they were feeling left out.
Twenty-three years since 1994, high levels of unemployment, income inequality, inept state-owned enterprises, pedestrian economic growth and cracks in the ruling elite are conspiring to breed more defensive tactics among the well off.
Just as Somalia does not need a partial international patrol as intervention, but decisive solutions to the problems that are elbowing ordinary fishermen from their rightful maritime economy, South Africa could do without the name-calling, scapegoating, political demagoguery, recycled concepts such as radical economic transformation or the attack on white monopoly capital.
It needs a South Africa First mindset, which prioritises results and lasting broad-based socio-economic impact.
.. Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica