Pirate saga a security wake-up call

Saturday October 11 2008

The reported threat by Somali pirates to blow up the Ukrainian ship carrying weapons allegedly belonging to the Kenyan military — killing themselves and the crew — is testament to the fact that the pirates have imbibed the militancy of some of the terrorist groups operating out of their country.

It raises the question whether, in fact, the pirates have not morphed into terrorists, holding many nations to ransom by threatening the lives of innocent seafarers as a cheap way to make money.

But even more important, the incident should serve to focus attention on the many serious security challenges faced by countries in the region.

It should also serve to strengthen resolve to ensure that, whatever the outcome of this saga, the dangerous arms on that ship do not end up on Somali shores.

Somalia has become a haven for international criminals and terrorists.

Groups such as al-Shabaab, which proudly claims that its members are students of Osama bin Laden, are completely dangerous, not just to us but to Somali society and its future.

The UN recently expressed concern over the targeting of children and the school system by these militants.

The possibility that they could lay their hands on more weapons from the Ukrainian cache is a decidedly depressing one.

Somalia has been a security threat to the region for a long time. Now it has morphed into an economic threat as well.

Its pirates are strangling a vital sea route, pushing up the cost of freight and cargo insurance.

Most of Africa’s eastern seaboard, as well as much of the interior of the continent, is now paying for the lawlessness out in the Indian Ocean.

It is an unfeasible and untenable situation which requires a coordinated response by nations in the region.

But even before tackling the wider problem, there is the more immediate issue of what to do with the pirates.

The Security Council of the UN has authorised the use of force to free the captives and secure the arms.

There is an opportunity for cooperation here so that a sustainable security solution can be found which would eradicate piracy completely.

World powers have some presence in the region, and African nations, possibly under the African Union, must design a mechanism under which they can play a fuller role, not just in that eradication but also in fighting terrorism in this part of the world.

Closer to home, Kenyans need to realise that there are dangers in this region through which a country can’t just sleep-walk or politick.

Careful thought and investment is required to strengthen Kenya’s capacity to protect shipping (and therefore its economy) within its territorial waters and beyond.

Equally, further efforts need to be made to improve the capacity to fight terrorism and keep the border with Somali impenetrable to those who would harm us.

And Kenya should step up the campaign to have a permanent solution for the Somali situation.

The dangers posed by the pirates should be regarded as an opportunity to seek a wider solution to the endemic violence and state collapse in Somalia.

Whether the load of arms and tanks belongs to Kenya or South Sudan, and whether government officials have lied to Kenyans regarding that ownership is an issue to be addressed in the fullness of time.