Guest post by Dave S:
The invasion and occupation of Somalia by Ethiopian troops on a mission for the US - the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa, says the UN - has been pretty well kept uder wraps by the media. The US' new push for more control over Africa, of which this is the most violent part, is covered by the BBC only through credulous recycling of AFRICOM press releases. Slowly but surely, though, Somalia has been creeping up the running order in the news - not because of the horrendous crime that the military might of the US has wreaked upon the Somalian people, but because of what a few Somalian gangsters with grenade launchers have been getting up to off the coast. That's right: pirates!
"Somali piracy is an issue that cannot be ignored," frets one of the Independents' Africa experts. Indeed it cannot because, unlike the much greater and much more ignorable violence on the mainland, the fighting in the waters poses a real threat to "the integrity of international trade". I mean have you seen Somalia on the map? You couldn't ask for a better trade route from Europe to the East than the Red Sea; from the Romans to the tripartite aggressors, no serious empire has neglected to keep it under control. Small wonder the US was so quick to crush the Union of Islamic Courts that was emerging from the chaos of post-Black Hawk Down Somalia; failure to dominate the Horn of Africa is not an option.
Except that, so far at least, they have failed, completey and utterly. Just as the ground war is all but lost in Afghanistan and the colonisation of Iraq looks set to be abandoned by all but John McCain, so has the war on Somalia spiralled out of control. Military victories for the resistance are one side of this, the spread of piracy is the other.
The "cost" of piracy quoted in most press reports is about $30million, a number that already sounded small two weeks ago and should barely register by now. But this is just an estimate from the thinktank Chatham House of the total amount of ransom money paid - it excludes the money spent on extra security for the trip or on long detours round the other side of Africa, not to mention the "opportunity cost" from operations that just haven't been cancelled. The response from the global ruling class certainly suggests that more than just the pre-crunch pricetag of an oligarchal mansion is at stake here.
A Russian warship has joined the American pursuit of one particularly prize catch, a shipment of Ukranian tanks bound for Kenya or rather, illegally, for Sudan (the official who revealed this "alarming" news was promptly arrested, but it has now been confirmed by the US authorities). And the European Union has decided that the eyepatch-wearing, parrot-loving scourge of the Somalian seas have become such a headache that Something Has To Be Done. The most obvious of those potential somethings - stop bombing Somalia - is, obviously, not even up for discussion. Instead they're going to establish an anti-piracy security operation off the coast of Somalia.
We've been saying all along that the War On Terror was going to spread; now they're even having to occupy the sea.