Pirates of Somalia

We hate to pick on Sean Banville over at breakingnewsenglish.com again (he provides a useful free service for English teachers) but he has unwittingly provided teachers with more rampantly reactionary worksheets, this time on Somali pirates. For those teachers in Spain, where the issue of ships being attacked by “Somali pirates” is particularly current, we would suggest they look more critically and historically at the events  rather than confirm local media bias. For we believe that the issue of piracy off the Somali coast is bound up with imperialist exploitation generally and US geo-political strategy in particular. And, although we are normally not in the habit of doing so, below is a Gap Fill taken from Simon Assaf’s article from Socialist Worker November 2008 , which we hope puts events in a somewhat more balanced perspective:

Fill the gaps below with the appropriate numbers and expressions

A) Tens of thousands            B)300       C)£1.70      D)£670

E) no compensation and no clean up    F) did not sink or seize any     g) 20 years         G) nothing

H) a multi-million dollar industry       I) misery for Somalis.

When the Asian tsunami of Christmas 2005 washed ashore on the east coast of Africa, it uncovered a great scandal. Tonnes of radioactive waste and toxic chemicals drifted onto the beaches after the giant wave dislodged them from the sea bed off Somalia. 1. _____________ of Somalis fell ill after coming into contact with this cocktail. They complained to the United Nations (UN), which began an investigation. There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems such as mouth bleeds, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties,” the UN noted. Some 2.__________  people are believed to have died from the poisonous chemicals.

Many European, US and Asian shipping firms – notably Switzerland’s Achair Partners and Italy’s Progresso – signed dumping deals in the early 1990s with Somalia’s politicians and militia leaders. This meant they could use the coast as a toxic dumping ground. This practice became widespread as the country descended into civil war. Nick Nuttall of the UN Environment Programme said:

“European companies found it was very cheap to get rid of the waste. It cost as little as 3.______________ a tonne, whereas waste disposal costs in Europe was something like 4.____________ a tonne. And the waste is of many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

But despite the evidence uncovered by the tsunami, an investigation into the practice of toxic dumping was dropped. There was 5.___________________.

In 2006 Somali fishermen complained to the UN that foreign fishing fleets were using the breakdown of the state to plunder their fish stocks. These foreign fleets often recruited Somali militias to intimidate local fishermen. Despite repeated requests, the UN refused to act. Meanwhile the warships of global powers that patrol the strategically important Gulf of Aden 6.____________vessels dumping toxic chemicals off the coast. So angry Somalis, whose waters were being poisoned and whose livelihoods were threatened, took matters into their own hands. Fishermen began to arm themselves and attempted to act as unofficial coastguards. They began to seize ships in late 2005. These were released after a ransom was paid. Among them were cargo vessels, luxury cruise liners and tuna fishing boats.

Januna Ali Jama, a Somali pirate leader, explained that their actions were motivated by attempts to stop the toxic dumping. He said that the £5.4 million  ransom they demanded for the return of a Ukrainian ship would go towards cleaning up the mess. Ali Jama said the pirates were “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly  7. _________

“The Somali coastline has been destroyed. We believe this money is 8. ________ compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”

But the nature of this piracy soon began to change. Members of the Somali government, who were part of the then Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), started to get involved. They transformed the piracy operation into 9. ___________ that funded their lavish lifestyles. The TFG was ousted during a popular rebellion in July 2006 led by the Union of Islamic Courts. Later that year the US backed Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia to drive the Islamic Courts out.

This provoked an insurgency labelled by some as the “third front” of the “war on terror”. The US became embarrassed when it emerged that its allies in the TFG were deeply involved in piracy. As concerns grew for the safety of ships heading towards the Suez Canal, global powers began to take notice. Indian and US warships began to sink Somali fishing boats if they sailed too close to cargo vessels or trawlers. These warships transformed Somalia’s coastal waters into a “free fire zone”. When a giant Saudi oil tanker was seized, these powers declared all-out war on the pirates.

British foreign minister David Miliband recently boasted that Britain would be taking the lead in cracking down on the pirates. The Royal Navy will take command of a European fleet of warships as part of “Operation Atalanta”, he said. The target will be the Somalis – not the vessels dumping waste or the illegal foreign fishing fleets.

As global powers dispatch their warships to the Somali coast, the problems that caused this outbreak of piracy remain unresolved. European, US and Asian ships will continue to dump hazardous waste and plunder coastal fishing stocks – leading to continuing 10. _____________

Answers: They are actually in the order in which they appear.



Filed under Uncategorized

13 responses to “Pirates of Somalia

  1. I notice the tone in these pieces is changing. Early on you seemed a bit more forgiving of Sean Banville was aiming at, pointing out that he is doing a lot of good work for free and helping out teachers. But this is the third time you’ve picked up a slip of his…. are you going after him in particular? Just curious.

    (This one is pretty bad though, straight line from the tabloids on a topic which is pretty easy to figure out more critically.)

    • marxistelf

      Good point Darren (as always). Maybe, it is a little tiresome for Sean to continue in this manner but, you are right, we can’t let this irritation get the better of us; Sean does provide a useful free service to English Teachers It will be changed from
      “Our old friend Sean Banville over at breakingnews.com has again provided teachers with more rampantly reactionary worksheets (free to download), this time on Somali pirates.”
      We hate to pick on Sean Banville over at breakingnews.com again (he provides a useful free service for English teachers) but he has unwittingly provided teachers with more rampantly reactionary worksheets, this time on Somali pirates.

      Apologies to Sean and thanks to you, Darren, for pointing out our error.

  2. Hello there,

    I’d like to point out another error. I have absolutely nothing to do with breakingnews.com. My website is http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com.

    Thank you for your excellent critiques of my lessons. In my rush to get my lessons made and uploaded in between meals, work and playing with kids, I seem to skip over the politics. As a result, a more critical analysis is often lacking.

    Your blog is utterly awesome and a valuable bookmark for all educators.

  3. The fact you are extremely busy is your own choice, Sean… it doesn’t excuse a lack of criticality.

    I know that if I posted as many lessons up on the web as you do there would be plenty that didn’t pass muster. But I suppose that’s the point – in sending these out across the world you do bear a certain responsibility.

    Having said that, you are working very hard providing fantastically useful resources for nothing. It does seem pretty hard to pick on you three times just for having a slightly dodgy quality control system.

  4. … and reading them back, my own comments look harsh, too. I am grateful for the many top notch materials you’ve provided for free, and I’ll still be using them.

  5. alexcase

    Do people still say “reactionary”? Can we expect a piece of “capitalist running dogs” or “the great and little Satan” soon?

    More seriously, my free worksheets have all kinds of errors, including factual slips and even typos, but my reaction is always “So, publish something better!” or “Do you think you should’ve read through it before bringing it to class?” If you want a professional version of my worksheets, unfortunately you’ll just have to pay to join Onestopenglish where they have designers and editors who make sure such things are so.

    To put it another way, Sean’s niceness is as impressive as his workrate

  6. marxistelf

    Hi Alex,

    Yes, there is still room for the word “reactionary.” Consider this:

    “The country is almost completely lawless. There is no one able to prevent the pirates, who are now driving around in top-of-the-range Toyota Land Cruisers and building luxury villas for themselves.”

    Obviously, the simple answer (without context or analysis) is to invade the country and kill these lawless Africans. If that’s not reactionary to you Alex, then I don’t know what is? After Afghanistan and Iraq, the American government and its allies are a little more circumspect about invading countries directly but building this type of consensus will only help them to do so. As the alternative article points out, however,the guys in Land Cruisers were put there by the Americans.

    On the issue of great or little Satans, Marxists generally stay clear of religious metaphor (You may have guessed that we don’t believe Hugo Chavez to be from a genuine Marxist tradition). Personally, I think it’s also wise to leave dogs, pigs or any other animals out of political criticism. To compare behaviour figuratively with other species (snouts in troughs, tail between the legs) however is, I believe, both dramatic and useful as it suggests the behaviour is not appropriate to the human species.

    As for typos and factual slips, these do not compare to promoting dangerous ideas like invading a country, unless of course the typos and factual slips are used for these purposes.

    On the other issues, I believe Darren has quite rightly 1) reprimanded us for focusing on Sean too often (now let’s go check that Alex Case guy out maybe he’s not such a pinkie after all- just a joke!!) 2) reminded Sean of his responsibility.

    So finally yes, Sean seems a nice guy and we wouldn’t want to discourage him from publishing free materials and we succumbed to Daren Elliot’s “Hands Off Sean Banville campaign” immediately it was launched but no we retain the right to call the dissemination of materials supporting continued military action against defenseless poor people in Africa, reactionary.

    • Hello there,

      You quoted from my site:
      “The country is almost completely lawless. There is no one able to prevent the pirates, who are now driving around in top-of-the-range Toyota Land Cruisers and building luxury villas for themselves.”

      OK. I admit I have never been to Somalia and did really use what I read in newspapers (non-tabloid) and saw on TV news.

      “The country is almost completely lawless.”
      From the media I follow – this appears to be true.

      “There is no one able to prevent the pirates”
      Yup – The combined forces of the US and UK military seem unable to stop hijackings and hostage taking. I also doubt if Somalia’s law enforcement agencies can stop them either.

      The pirates are “driving around in top-of-the-range Toyota Land Cruisers and building luxury villas for themselves.” – There have been a few documentaries showing this.

      It seems rather far-fetched of you to extrapolate from this that I believe “the simple answer (without context or analysis) is to invade the country and kill these lawless Africans.” I do not, nor do the three statements above suggest that.

      Do you at Marxistelf have names or do you prefer to hide behind a blog title?

      Once again I’d like to commend you on your site. You do a fantastic job of exposing many shady practices in ELT.

      Sean Banville

  7. alexcase

    It was mainly a joke, but if there was anything serious behind it it was a genuine feeling that I hadn’t heard or read the word “reactionary” for ages and so thought it had gone the way of “bounder” and “cad”.

  8. marxistelf

    Dear Sean,
    We apologise for the delay in responding to your comments but felt it best to choose our words very carefully before doing so.

    Firstly, thank you for the spirited defence of the innocence of your discourse, however, we feel discourse is rarely, if ever, so innocent. Consider the following sentence:

    “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess locked in a tower.”

    Now you might contend that the narrative

    she will be rescued by a handsome prince and they will live happily ever after

    is neither logical nor necessary. Unfortunately, such is the power of discourse that an ending such as:

    “she will be rescued by a beautiful servant girl with whom she will enjoy a stormy relationship for a number of years”

    is self-evidently incongruous.

    Indeed, it is the individual items “Once upon a time”, “a beautiful princess”, “locked in a tower “which draw on the wider discourse of Western fairy tales which propels us in that narrative direction. We may play with that narrative, as above, or in the popular animated film Shrek, but this only demonstrates the power and overall cohesion of the original discourse.

    We therefore, ask you to consider something closer to your own discourse in the Somali Pirates piece and compare:

    “Lawless youth drive around council estate in cars stolen from local residents”


    “Bored youth get involved in car crime”

    We are sure you will recognise that two competing discourses are present here and that there are two “logical” conclusions- (tougher policing/sentencing or better facilities/youth support work). Maybe both solutions are possible but each discourse points in a definite direction.

    So to your actual narrative:

    “There is no one able to ….”

    This is factually wrong. People have successfully acted against the pirates. Indeed under the Islamic Courts, before the American sponsored overthrow of this government, piracy was all but stamped out. Moreover, even the TFG (America’s puppet regime) has been known to arrest pirates and put them on trial.

    You might have said

    “current attempts to control piracy have not been wholly successful”

    The use of a hopeless, exhausted all avenues narrative is, of course, a prelude to a more dramatic and less measured
    response that will be required to restore order.

    You predcede this with
    Somalia is a lawless country

    Now consider the difference between war-torn and lawless. Lawless means we have to restore law (an abstract quality) with we have to stop the wreckage of war (a more human quality). These two words are from a very different narrative. Somalia has had enough of wars but lawless suggests that only the imposition of law is of primary importance. For the MTG, we want to ask whose law?

    You then make an intriguing comment concerning the cars they drive “around in” and the luxury villas they “live in”.

    Now, you may have chosen only to mention the disproportionate wealth they enjoy as compared to the rest of the population (concentrating on motive rather than excess) or simply their possession of expensive items (drive/have) but your concern with “their visibility” can only be interpreted as disgust at the way they “show off “(you could quite easily have substituted drive with swan) or the ease with which they could be identified for appropriate action to be taken.

    Thus your narrative is quite simply, look at these people flaunting their crime. Nowhere do you mention that they flaunt this wealth in the very areas that the American backed TFG control. We are left therefore with an obvious conclusion…. Invade the country and arrest the perpetrators.

    Secondly, it is regrettable that this was the third time we had picked on your website and regrettable we used the unbalanced language we did. You are an individual providing a free service to teachers, you are not the enemy. Darren Eliot was correct in reprimanding us for this and we apologised immediately and rewrote the introduction.

    We were also content with Darren’s reply to you. However, your further challenge to the validity of our article causes us to go further than Darren did in his reply about personal responsibility.

    We appreciate the sacrifice you make in providing a free service to other teachers in that you must often choose between the competing needs of your young children and your website. But Sean, as a parent, please consider this:

    At the time of writing this, it is far from inconceivable that a young widow of someone killed in the American sponsored war in Somalia, faces the tough choice of who to feed; her sick child, her well child or herself. If she feeds herself she can continue to live and fight for her family but her sick child might die. If she feeds her sick child she or her well child might fall ill (if she falls ill, all might die). If she feeds her well child……. Well you get it.

    These are the choices imperialism imposes on Africa. The West has stolen, killed and sold the young men of this continent, it has robbed its natural resources and continues to do so, it has sponsored wars and continues to do so, it has wrapped the continent in so much debt it is strangled and unable to feed itself. It has poisoned its coastline and continues to pollute the mainland. Africans (like Europeans) are not saints but, in the words of Shakespeare, they are “more sinned against than sinning”. For this reason we were/are unwilling to retract the piece we wrote about Somalia and your misrepresentation (dangerous narrative) about Somalia and piracy.

    Finally, you ask whether “we have names” and why we “hide behind” a blog. Now, again this draws on a particular narrative we are not prepared to engage with. Were you to have asked, however, the reasons for our policy of anonymity we would have been happy to explain that such a policy is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A disadvantage when dealing with an individual such as yourself because we would prefer a warmer more personalised conversation (exchanging annecdote and experience) but an advantage when dealing with the industry more generally because we can speak our minds fully without fear of reprisals.

    We sincerely hope this answers the points you raise.

  9. Well done and keep up the good work.

    I linked you to my site : http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/links.html

    Have a look to see if you have any suggestions regarding the (very short) blurb I wrote to accompany your site name.

    Thank you,


    PS You wrote “For this reason we were/are unwilling to retract the piece we wrote about Somalia”

    I didn’t ask you to 🙂

  10. marxistelf

    Thank you, Sean, for your generous words and thank you for your continuing painstaking efforts to provide teachers around the world with high quality free up-to-date materials that they can use in class.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s