One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Everyone who knows about Somalia is named Mark Bowden

Based on the book of those Mark Bowdens

Based on the book of those Mark Bowdens

I had assumed that when The Washington Post commissioned Mark Bowden to write an op-ed about Somalia, it was because he had written a book called “Black Hawk Down,” which then got turned into a popular movie, which subsequently became the lodestar of American policy toward the region.  But then Bowden admitted he hasn’t been to the country since 1997.  And sure, the country is still a mess, anarchy still reigns, and all hell is perpetually on the brink of being loosed (except with pirates this time), but surely readers could use a fresher perspective.  Yes.  And that’s where the other Mark Bowden comes in:

More than $900 million will be needed next year just to avoid famine and disease, according to Mark Bowden (no relation), the U.N. humanitarian and resident coordinator for Somalia. The European Union and the United States have begun to chase pirates more aggressively, but that’s like swatting at bees while ignoring the hive.

This is way too much of a coincidence.

(image from flickr user James Spahr under a Creative Commons license)


December 24, 2008 Posted by | Somalia | , , , | Leave a comment

An important job for NASA

Cartography, here we come.

Cartography, here we come.

If NASA and Barack Obama’s team could stop their apparent sniping, maybe they could get to work constructing some sort of multimillion-dollar craft to go deep into space and construct…maps.

If Africa’s conflicts were mapped from outer space, those conflict zones would look like three holes into which entire regions are tumbling.

I think the State Deparment already has some pretty good maps identifying where Somalia, Darfur, and DR Congo are located (Africa!).  Granted, they probably don’t have cool 3-d effects to depict these areas “tumbling” into holes, but I’m not sure how much that would help resolve the conflicts anyway.

Sending satellites to track pirates, on the other hand, seems like a great idea.

(image from flick user D’Amico Rodrigo under a Creative Commons license)

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Darfur, DR Congo, Humor, Somalia, U.S. Foreign policy | , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re watching you…

(cross-posted, again, on Dispatch)

satellite.pngWired’s Noah Shachtman informs of a UN agency — one that, I admit, I did not even know existed — using technology to keep track of the pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

The U.N. is staring down on the Somali pirates from space. UNOSAT, the international body’s satellite analysis wing, has produced a pair of reports, giving fresh views of the ships hijacked off the coast of east Africa, detailing their captors’ activities — and even snooping on the pirates’ home base.

Using images taken from the Quickbird commercial imaging satellite, the group is plotting out exactly where ships are being captured, and where they’re being held.

I think that counts as a “new strategy.” One of the problems hampering a more effective response to the lawlessness and piracy maritime terrorism off Somalia’s waters is, well, that there’s a whole lot of water to patrol. But pirates can’t really hide from someone watching from space. And given how difficult it is to mount any sort of intervention once pirates seize their target, knowing where they are is no small piece of the puzzle.

And if spying from satellites doesn’t work, there are always giant blimps aerostats.

(satellite image charting three recently hijacaked ships off the coast of Somalia, taken by UNOSTAT)

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Somalia, UN | , | 1 Comment

The Strange Demands of Pirates

(cross-posted at UN Dispatch)

If you’re planning on paying ransom to Somali pirates — assuming your daughter is able to reach them by phone, that is — you better bring the right kind of bills.

100 dollar bills.jpgKenyan sailor Athman Said Mangore, who was held captive for more than 120 days by Somali pirates, says they are known to make many demands and put in place a number of restrictions.

“They sometimes say they want $208,000 exactly in $100 bills only,” he says.

“I don’t know why they make those demands. They usually also don’t like dollar bills that were printed in 2000 or the years before. If it was printed in 1999, they say: ‘This is not fit to be used in our shop’,” he adds.

Because they tend to treat their captives relatively well, and because there is still no real clean way to rescue hostages without forking over the money, pirates unfortunately still have the leverage to make these kind of demands. And perhaps even more unfortunately, emboldened by their recent spate of success, they’re demanding a lot more than $208,000 these days.

Though at these their demands aren’t this outlandish, I suppose.

(image from flickr user Jeffrey Putman under a Creative Commons license)

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Somalia | , | 2 Comments