Hollywood’s ‘Pirate Hero’

Talk about dramatizing the issue: it turns out Samuel L. Jackson’s company has secured the rights to the story of Andrew Mwangura, a local negotiator who “heads the non-profit East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, which works to free ships held by Somali sea raiders.” I don’t know about you, but personally I’m fascinated to see what kind of representation they produce. I guess it’s not surprising that Hollywood is seizing on the dramatic potential of the Somali Pirate situation, although to be honest I thought the recent hostage situation with Captain Richard Phillips would be the first story translated to the big screen. One more interesting note – “He was arrested at the time of the hijacking for suggesting the arms on board were bound for South Sudan, something the Kenyan government denied.” This movie just might be a platform for a more truthful account of piracy in Somalia


Barbary Corsairs

sorry  for the late-nesss—I fell asleep mid-post. I  hope some of you still get to see it before class. 


Apparently this guy was called a "Barbarossa." Sound familiar?

When I heard about the Somalian pirates, I felt like I had heard about something similiar before. I had, in US History class, heard about the BARBARY CORSAIRS. 

Like the Somalian pirates, the Barbary Corsairs were an international problem for ships around Africa (though around North Africa, near Algiers) before they became a US problem. The US fought the first and second Barbary Wars against the pirates (the second with foreign help) to protect their commercial interests. I believe that the first war,was the first time that the very young U.S. fought in an international conflict ( it took place 1801-1805, under Thomas Jefferson).  According to my research on wikipedia, the second war brought the end of the US paying ransom. Another interesting tidbit (from wikipedia again), is that they say: 


There some important difference between the Barbary Corsairs and the Somalian Pirates:

1.) They were from different places (and an obviously different time periods).

2.) Barbary Corsairs were privateers, and so sanctioned by the State. 

3.) The Barbary Corsairs opperated for 8 centuries. 

4.) They attacked other countries directly and pillaged. 

5.) The primary goal of the Corsairs was to capture slaves. 

6.) The Corsairs (as part of a state system) had ambassadors, and a whole structure of power supporting them.


It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once. [2] [3]

This is what one of the ambassadors said to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1786. However, the Somalian Pirates are opposed by the Islamist fighters in their state because they attack Muslim ships. Somalia Pirates are also opposed by the Arab League of nations for attacking their properties. 

what i don’t get about pirates

When the class first started talking about African/Somalian pirates I honestly had no idea what was going on or why we were considering changing around our syllabus to fit in a discussion on the topic. I went home and google’d “pirates” didn’t get me very far. so I google’d “African pirates”. My first hit was a USA Today article Off Africa’s coast, pirates ‘out of control’. Immediately I was struck by the sensationalism of the whole event and how what we were discussing in class is certainly not how the rest of the US is thinking about this issue. The article goes out of its way to describe these hijackers as crazed pirates, emerging from the dark waters with hooks and AK-47s.

In addition, wikipedia describes the long history of piracy off the Somali coast since the early 1990’s. So why the sudden surge in coverage/commentary/sensationalism in the US?

I think this song I found on YouTube captures the sentiment quite well ;).

Questions from class: Somali Pirates

So this is kind of late but I thought I should still put them up. Here are the questions from the discussion on Tuesday:

1) Why are the pirates still at it, if they are supposed to be well off?
2) Who is responsible? Who legislates this far out at sea?
3) What is the Somali Government doing?
4)Why the term ‘pirates’? Why not ‘boat hijackers’ or ‘water thieves’ or anything else?
5) This has been going on for a while now so why the sudden furore over pirates? At what point did the knowing affect us? When and why did we decide to take action?

6) We also talked about the generalization of terms so that they are sometimes refered to as African pirates as if they are as partolling the entire continents coast.

Aargh, maties! Swashbuckling across the globe…

The first time I heard about modern piracy was in 2007, after in the Gulf of Guinea, of the coast of Nigeria’s oil rich South. I remember watching the news that day and turning to my parents to ask “We have pirates in Naija* ?” My mom said yes, detailing a few incidents that had occurred around the world over the past few years.

I tried to check out some more information about the  phenomenon and eventually hit Forbes.com. They had a slideshow showing 10 of the world’s most dangerous waters, which I found rather helpful. Check it out here.

The slideshow is actually 2 years old (though Forbes has reposted it in the light of the recent events off the coast of Somalia). My only question is: why is the phenomenon only coming into international consciousness now, if it has been a threat for over a decade?

*Naija = Nigerians’ slang (nick)name for Nigeria…

Everything but a plug for K’naan

For those of you who don’t know, K’naan is an amazing Somalian artist. He came to America in 1991 while his country was sinking rapidly into chaos, on the  last commercial flight out of Somalia. His lyrics are incredibly poignant. He has fanfare across the world, in nearly every demographic- from those in his homeland in Somalia to the viewers of BET and MTV. 

Our discussion today about Somalian pirates reminded my of one his songs which is entitled “Somalia”. In this song, K’naan talks about his homeland and what it was like to grow up in the political chaos of today’s Somalia. I think that his lyrics can be helpful to our discussion because it allows us to look at the Somalian piracy issue as well as the larger governmental issues of Somalia through someone who is Somalian. It offers a us a sample of self-representation. 

In the song “Somalia”, K’naan mentions Somalian piracy in the chorus. I recommend listening/ watching to the entire song. In class we were talking about the use of the word “piracy”, do we call it piracy because the west calls it piracy or because it IS piracy? What is interesting is that K’naan refers to it as piracy. In his video, he actually depicts animated pirates (the cartoon version of pirates that we all spent time with back in the day on Saturday mornings). 

Also, in the “Somalia” video there is a scene from Black Hawk Down. Why would K’naan think  this a fitting representation of his own country? And if he thinks it is fitting, is there room for conscientious westerners to object?

Is K’naan just accepting western definitions/terms in his understanding of his own homeland? Or does he use these terms because they are the terms that his audience understands and he is trying to make a bigger point? One of the lines from this song is “… [I] learned the English language just to share [my] observation”. Perhaps he is using the terms and rearranging them in lyrics that communicate a very unique perspective.

I have also attached a clip from vimby.com, where K’naan talks about growing up in Somalia. I highly reccomend watching it, its only 5 minutes long- great procrastination material, at least!