Thursday, April 14, 2011

Somaliland Neighborhood Watch

Kabir Dhanji for NPR
As even casual news listeners know by now, several locational factors combine to make Somalia the world headquarters of piracy on the high seas. Conditions of health, education, and poverty are so severe and so difficult to measure that Somalia does not even have a Human Development Index ranking. That misery is common on a point of land situated near one of the world's most important sea lanes has resulted in piracy becoming a common way of life, and in some communities harboring pirates because of the riches their ransoms can bring. And although the results are sometimes violent, many shipping firms and their insurers treat the payments as a cost of doing business, amortized over billions of dollars worth of goods. (Some individual ships carry enough cargo to make a truck caravan 200 miles long, so even a $9,000,000 ransom can be absorbed from time to time.)

Somalia is, in many ways, the razor's edge of the growing global wealth gap.

Having posted on piracy a few times before, I was not really planning to do so again, until I heard two of the three parts of an NPR series on efforts to curb Somaliland. At first I thought -- foolishly -- that a reporter was erroneously using an archaic name for the country. As the report makes clear, however, Somalia barely is a country, but within that country are three distinct regions. Residents of Somaliland, along the north coast, consider it to be a sovereign nation, and are working against pirates along the Gulf of Aden.

As reported by Frank Langfitt, the national identity and sense of duty lead coastal residents to patrol the shore, and a map of pirate attacks does show that activity within the Gulf of Aden is clustered along the coast of Yemen, not Somaliland. According to Norwegian professor Stig Hansen, Somaliland resists the pirate stereotype, and is hoping that their resistance leads of the world to recognize it as an independent nation.

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