What would you do about the pirate situation off the coast of Somalia?
There is nothing simple about the country of Somalia on the eastern Horn of Africa. It achieved independence from Britain and Italy in 1960 and because of its important strategic location near the mouth of the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia a proxy war was fought there between the USSR and the United States during the Cold War. The Red Sea (and the Suez Canal at the north end of it) is where much of the shipping of the world travels through and certainly much of the oil that travels by tanker. Because of this valuable location the country was flooded with weapons for thirty years to change the flow of commerce and determine regional influence. Both nations disrupted the economy and the politics there for two generations to say nothing of the English and Italians before them.
A young man named S walked up to my table and chairs and after briefly chatting asked me one of the most unusual questions I have been asked at the table.
“What would you do about the pirate situation off the coast of Somalia?”
If you don’t know there is a serious problem with Somali pirates off the eastern coast of Africa hijacking boats and causing all sorts of problems. But it isn’t as simple as that.
I am no stranger to weird questions at the table but at least the strangest among those looking for a creative approach to something usually have a relationship to the problem.
S wasn’t Somali. He had never been an investor who had a boat hijacked.
He had no connection to Somalia.
Anything except for having read about it and felt like it was important.
Somalia, despite being a poor nation, is a country rich in natural resources. It has the longest coastline of any country in Africa so much of its economy, such that it is, relies on the sea. It also has untapped oil reserves but the colonial powers that dominated the country for the last 250 years have crippled the country and the IMF did particular damage in the late 80’s. When the country was pushed towards ruin by Western interests in 1989/1990 and in 1991 the government collapsed three things happened
- poverty soared in the country.
- nuclear waste started to be dumped in Somali harbors and marshes by unmarked ships and people started getting sick and dying up and down the coast.
- unmarked trawlers started heavily fishing the coast illegally and suddenly the coastal subsistence lifestyle was no longer possible.
A confluence of forces gave Somalis little choice but to try to protect their shores from toxic dumping and from food being stolen. They started becoming pirates and using all the spare weapons sitting around the country they started taking hostages, halting boats, getting some money and stopping the dumping and the fishing. Of course some reveled and prospered in the crime but the majority are just doing their best to get by at all.
I tried with S to clarify the question because while I could theoretically give a creative approach to this problem, it wasn’t very practical to S. But he persisted with his query. So I obliged by suggesting that we role play not having a clue of where we were going. He plays a pirate and I play a hostage negotiator. We never went into the history of Somalia or what actually brought the pirates into existence…we just talked.
So Mister Pirate, what is it that you want?
Houses, cars, and girls.
And what do you want those for?
So I can feel powerful.
And why do you want to feel powerful?
So people wont fuck with me. So my dad wont fuck with me.
this is clearly not about pirates anymore
So once your dad wont fuck with you , then what?
Then I’ll be happy.
So you want to be happy?
Ok, has there ever been a time when you didn’t have cars and houses and girls and your dad fucked with you that you have been happy?
What allowed you to be happy then?
Say more on that.
Job in the Bible is my hero. He had everything, lost it and took all that suffering and wouldn’t curse God and then was rewarded one hundred times over.
So you want to be more like Job?
Yeah, if I was more like Job I would stop being a pirate and realize that I can be happy right now.
This dialogue took perhaps two minutes and then stopped. S had gone from clever questioner to suddenly exposing something he hadn’t known he was looking for. He was shocked that his seemingly casual interest in Somali pirates was intimately connected to his own well being.
He wasn’t being glib when he said that this was ” a pretty good solution to the pirate problem.”
We all seek happiness, to be sure. The nation of Somalia has much to work out but Somalia is a metaphor. Somalia is just like us and the pirates are part of ourselves. Like Somalia we each have a rich heritage, tremendous wealth, an open door on rich thoroughfares and have also been beset by difficulties from within and without. In being beset we put up defenses. We send out pirates to protect us from the sieges that we experience in our lives – criticism, judgement, stress and the like.
These inner pirates have a job to do – protect us from the outside world. But there comes a point that they have forgotten their original rationale for being pirates – to simply be happy. They get stuck in the role of pirating and hence lose connection with the original goal.
There is a place for defending ourselves from the world. There is a place for throwing up pirates. But there must come a time for us to call them back and, like Job, and like S, give our selves an opportunity to stop the struggle and be happy now.
Perhaps this is a tall order but seeing that we are habitually struggling may open up a new door on our struggle.
It did for S. What war have you been fighting for so long that you forgot what you were fighting for? Can you cease that to tap into your wealth?