Last week the EU’s Head of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, arrived in India to ask for Delhi’s help in the fight against Somali piracy. While the visit was ostensibly to bolster ties between the EU and India – two “key strategic powers” – it was also a desperate attempt to cajole India’s growing naval power into protecting important shipping lanes in the Indian ocean.
Somali pirates are now operating far from NATO, EU and other naval forces’ bases. India’s merchant navy has been frequently attacked delivering goods to the ports of Djibouti City and Somaliland’s Berbera – goods that are then transported all over Eastern Africa and up the Red Sea to the Suez canal.
Two years ago India belatedly sent a warship into the Gulf of Aden to protect its own shipping in response to angry protests from the families of 18 Indians who had been held prisoner for several months. The captives were finally freed, but the government’s much-criticised delay lead to a complete change of tack. A month later the Indian navy sank a suspected pirate vessel when its frigate came under attack in the Gulf of Aden.
This approach was widely praised by other countries that have been repeatedly held to ransom by Somali pirates since the country became a failed and ungovernable state in 1991 when, after years of civil war, neighbouring Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia and drew its borders along those previously marked by British Somaliland.
am writing this piece in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, and from where I am sitting I can see a MIG bomber that was shot down during that war, which now serves as a monument and landmark (left). Locals have told me the Somali jets would take off from the airport and strafe the city only two kilometres away.
Somaliland is yet to be recognised internationally as a separate state, but since its quasi-independence it has been peaceful, has had a very free press and has fostered a thriving free market economy. Even this week’s presidential elections were widely regarded as free and fair.
So perhaps the Indian Government should be working with the EU on land as well as sea. India’s policy of simply blowing up these Somali pirates may be more effective than “monitoring” them, but perhaps recognising Somaliland would increase diplomatic pressure on Somalia.
The 11th EU-India summit will take place later this year. This may be a propitious time to bring up the subject of Somaliland and prevent the Horn of Africa sinking further into anarchy. Journalists and other influential figures here believe that Somaliland could solve the whole piracy problem with investment of a couple of million quid. Catherine Ashton please take note.
Monty Munford has worked in the media industry for the past 15 years and moved to India in 2008. He writes for several publications including The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Times of India. He is @montymunford on Twitter and has a personal website at www.montysoutook.com.