The black and white in shades of grey

There is no black and white and there is no good and bad. There are only the shades of grey in which the good and bad take place.

© AP/Associated Press

© AP/Associated Press

Many of you might have heard about the pirates of Somalia, that war-torn country at the Horn of Africa that has been receiving lots of bad press by European newspapers over the last decades. There is more to Somalia and its pirates than meets the eye.

Soon after the Somali government collapsed in 1991, with no leadership to enforce direction whilst lawlessness grew abundantly, its nine-million-strong population started teetering on starvation. The Western world in particular, but also far-eastern countries such as Japan and China, thought this was a great opportunity to invade its coastal waters, given these were not protected by any coastal jurisdiction. After the first fish trolleys arrived, it didn’t take long for a whole armada of boats to join in by the hundreds and claim fish that was so far off their natal coasts that one has to wonder who paid for all that petrol. But that’s another story.


©AFP/Agence France-Presse

What’s worse, Somali waters have been used as a convenient rubbish bin and have been transformed into a nuclear wasteland. Yes, nuclear. As if the word alone didn’t send enough goose bumps down one’s spine. The economic potential of the country’s marine resources has been seriously affected and threatened, whilst dumping of toxic and harmful waste is rampant in the sea, on the shores and in the hinterland. Amongst other things, the challenges faced by Somalia today, include a growing deterioration of forest land, desertification and the continuous depletion of its wildlife.

In 2005, the United Nations released After the Tsunami, an environmental report highlighting the levels of contamination from these waste deposits. Apart from the 2005 Asian tsunami’s devastating effect on approximately 650 kilometers of Somali shoreline, damaging mangrove forests, coastal vegetation and coral reefs in its wake, the United Nations report stressed concern about Somalia posing a serious environmental hazard to other east African countries as hundreds of dumped and leaking barrels were washed up on its shores: ‘nuclear and hazardous waste had for long been dumped in coastal waters off North Hobyo (South Mudug) and Warsheik (south of Benadir), igniting catastrophic environmental concerns.’



After tsunami severly damaged the coastlines of 12 countries bordering the Indian Ocean, an increasing number of people in Somalia started complaining about serious health issues. The population had already begun suffering from inexplicable rashes, nausea and malformed babies before the tidal wave hit the Somali coast, but with the new wave of waste piling up on land, people began to sicken from radiation and in a short period of time, more than 300 people died.

European and Asian fishing vessels and container ships are worried about pirates and rightly so. Many Somalis used to make a living from fishing, but the on-goings at the foot of their shores is quenching this source of income as hundreds of international fishing trawlers are plundering and draining the sea’s fish populations and foreign countries are dumping their nuclear waste into the ocean. The Somali pirates are carrying out a hard-fought battle and are largely supported by the populace as pirating is just about the only constant that is keeping the economy and population alive these days.

Now, try and remember newspaper articles that have dealt with the Somali pirates. Any mention of the information presented above? Any mention at all about the plight of Somali fishermen or Europe’s large-scale waste-dumping? No? One or two perhaps? Thought so. After all, newspapers unfortunately tend to print in black and white, and not in shades of grey.


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