Grasping nettles


The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) overnight on Tuesday voted unanimously to allow international forces now operating in Somali and adjacent waters to run Somali pirates to ground.

South African ambassador Dumisani Kumalo – who departs the UNSC after a two year stint at the end of this month – made his usual contrarian remarks that pursuing pirates to their dens might get innocent people hurt. He of course has a point.
What was interesting about the unanimous vote was not that SA supported this measure and others in a new resolution, but that every speaker quoted in a UNSC press release released afterwards described piracy as a “symptom” and argued that the “root cause” – poverty and lawlessness – had to be addressed.
As memory serves these were concerns raised some time ago by the gravelly-voiced Kumalo. It is interesting that his then-contrarian views are the conventional wisdom now.
Resolution 1851 also “invites” states to create a contact point to coordinate the fight against piracy that seems to be attracting ever-more warships (victim states China and Norway being the latest to volunteer ships) and exchange intelligence.
This should please SA Navy chief director Bernard Teuteberg who pointed out at a recent state of the Navy press conference that the heightened naval activity off Somalia needed to be coordinated to be successful.           
The UNSC also took aboard another of the SA Navy`s concerns, that of jurisdiction and jurisprudence. The Resolution introduced so-called “shipriders” which UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said was a realistic way of bringing pirates and armed sea robbers to book.
Taking a leaf from counter-drug smuggling operations in the Caribbean, Costa says a police officer from Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania or Yemen would join a warship off the coast as a “shiprider,” arrest pirates encountered in the name of his or her country, and then have them sent to their national court for trial.
This should address Danish ambassador Carsten Staur`s gripe about Danish naval forces recently having to release suspected pirates arrested in international waters after finding they could not be prosecuted in Denmark or anywhere else.
Staur added it was time to look at bringing suspected pirates before an international tribunal, but in the meantime shipriders will do.
The idea is not that novel. The SA Navy has been using it for years, carrying a customs officer when on an anti-smuggling patrol, a police officer when on law enforcement duty or a Maritime and Coastal Management officer when on fisheries duty.   
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also briefed the UNSC on the political and security situation in Somalia saying antipiracy efforts had to be placed in the context of a comprehensive approach that fostered an inclusive peace process in the lawless state.
Ban said the most appropriate response is a multinational force, rather than a “typical” peacekeeping operation. 
Such a force should have the full military capabilities required to support the cessation of armed confrontation to stabilize Mogadishu and to defend itself. 
But while everyone from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice down now links success in the containment of piracy to addressing the situation on land, no-one seems keen to turn rhetoric to action.
Ban says he had by Tuesday approached 50 countries and three international organizations to request contributions for such a force. “The response has not been encouraging; no member state has offered to play the lead nation role.”
Who can blame them? Somalia delights in biting the hand that feeds it, as the world saw in 1993 when the country`s fractious militias united to oppose the UNOSOM II intervention. It is highly likely they will do so again.
The conundrum reminds me of a walk I took in the Waterloo battlefields this June.
Ambling along I spotted some nettles, a weed familiar to me from my Cape Town youth. Sometime later I became distracted but instantly found my concentration refocused when I brushed one of those noxious nasties. The sting!
I was immediately reminded that the expression “to grasp the nettle” contained a very painful truth.
It is not just pretty words.