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9/26/2008

Pirates hijack ship off Kenya coast in a Multipolar World

Somali pirates on Thursday afternoon seized a ship carrying more than 30 military tanks in a dramatic hijacking that sent ripples in the maritime industry.

The Ukrainian vessel flying the flag of Belize was expected to dock in Mombasa Friday morning with its cargo that was believed destined to Southern Sudan according to maritime sources.

The ship was on its last two of a 10-day voyage and was hijacked between Kismayu and Mombasa, Seafarers Assistance Programme Coordinator Mr Andrew Mwangura said.

“The ship, whose design is that of a vehicle carrier, had 17 crew members and 38 military tanks on board,” he said on the phone adding: “This was to be the third ship to dock in Mombasa with military equipment from Ukraine.”

Mr Mwangura said that although the destination of the tanks was not immediately known, they were likely destined to Southern Sudan where the previous ones had been delivered.

Somali waters are considered the most dangerous in the world, with each militia group controlling their own sections of the ocean.

Ships carrying food aid to the war ravaged country have to be escorted by navy war ships, with the most recent being Canadian Navy which ends its escort mission on September 27.

News agency reports quoting Ukraine’s foreign ministry, had earlier reported that the ship was carrying T-72 tanks and had a crew of 21 on board. The captain contacted the ship’s owner by telephone and reported that armed men were boarding, shortly before losing communications.

The country has not had an effective national government for 17 years, leading to a collapse of law and order both on land and at sea.

Multipolar World

The international financial crisis has suddenly accelerated a tendency that has been manifest since the United States’ first setbacks in Iraq: American hegemony, and, one should say, Western hegemony, which seemed to settle over the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist system at the end of the 1980s-beginning of the 1990s, has seen its heyday.

Already since the beginning of the 21st century, Western claims to impose a Western conception of human rights and to promote democracy as the best guarantor of security and prosperity have been challenged. The so-called emerging states, notably in Asia, preach another kind of modernization. The poor countries commonly called “third world countries” during the Cold War, denounced the unkept promises of development aid. As it benefited from the economic globalization it sought to insert itself into, China, joined by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, challenged Western pretensions to fixing the rules of the game.

The United Nations General Assembly, before which Nicolas Sarkozy spoke Tuesday, September 23, emphasized the birth of this multipolar world. It’s what French diplomacy has advocated for decades. However, contrary to what was imagined, multipolarity is not presenting itself as an orderly construction based on several power centers maintaining well-codified relations among themselves.

The multipolar world that is brewing is, quite the contrary, disorganized, almost anarchic. No organizing principle seems to preside over its constitution. Russia may well attempt to find new allies in Latin America, China and Africa against the United States; their interests diverge when Russia changes borders in the Caucasus by force. Both have reasons to rejoice over the decline of the American ex-“hyperpower,” but, in fact, their dependence on the global economy makes them as much victims as beneficiaries of the international financial crisis.

Everyone, or almost everyone, demands new rules. Nonetheless, before new equilibria emerge from the present disorder, it would be wise to expect some dangerous squalls.

Secret tank deal shows poor priorities

A secret tank deal by Kenya’s Army would have gone unnoticed if Somali pirates hadn’t hijacked a Ukrainian ship ferrying the 33 tanks to the port of Mombasa.

The Russian built T-72 tank can run on three types of fuel: diesel, benzene and kerosene.

Its not clear when the Department of Defence placed an order for T-72 tanks from Russia. The Army has not explained how much it spent on the equipment, neither has it explained the role of the 33 tanks in Kenya’s security strategy.

Apart from tanks, Somali pirates found tons of ammunition and auxiliary equipment within the ship, which they have threatened to offload for use in their country’s civil war. The pirates are demanding US$35 million in ransom before they release the vessel and its cargo.

Typical of most African governments, Kenya’s leaders are spending billions of dollars on security while ordinary people die of hunger, disease and poor shelter. Kenya ranks at the bottom of international social and economic indicators.

A growing population is putting pressure on neglected infrastructure. Public hospitals lack drugs as thousands of Kenyans perish each year on a road network broken to the point of tatters. Kenyan cities are going without fresh water due to lack of investment in water production.

The capital city of Nairobi is getting less water today than it was receiving a decade ago after a colonial era dam collapsed at Sasumua. The port city of Mombasa gets water from a supply system built by the British when the town’s population was less than a third of current figures.

Lack of investment in electricity production has made Kenya’s electricity tariffs the highest in Africa. Industries suffer from constant power blackouts which have undermined economic growth, leading to massive losses and job cuts.

Agricultural production in Kenya is far below demand. The country is producing less coffee, maize, tea, wheat, millet and everything else compared to twenty years ago. Sugar milling companies in Western Kenya, stuck with 19th century technology, are creaking out low quality sugar in significantly less quantities than when Kenya was a British colony.

Amidst all these, the Kenyan government has seen it fit to invest billions of shillings in military equipment. As stated earlier, if it wasn’t for Somali pirates, majority of Kenyans would never have known that tanks were about to get imported into the country. But, lack of priority in government procurement appears to be the norm these days.

Its been announced that Kenya will spend about $23 million in the purchase of second-hand fighter jets from the Kingdom of Jordan. The F-5 fighter that the Kenyan Airforce is so fond of went out of production in 1989, meaning that the jets Kenya is buying are at least 19 years old. Kenya will also pay Jordan to train its pilots in using the junk aircraft.

Meanwhile, other branches of the security forces are on a shopping bonanza. Regular and Administration police have enhanced their recruitment drives to boost numbers. They are receiving modern equipment, weapons, 4-wheel drive trucks, uniforms and riot gear. Considering the conduct of police during the post-election violence, its obvious that this enhanced expenditure is not for the benefit of ordinary men and women.

The Kenya Police has just finished rehabilitating giant Russian-built helicopters fitted with night-vision equipment, gun detectors and communications technology. The helicopters will carry a team of quick response officers assisted by highly trained dogs.

Just this week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – a government body – blamed police for the execution of 500 Kikuyu youth and the disappearance of scores of others. According to survivors, the dead and the disappeared were all abducted by people identifying themselves as police officers. A man whose dramatic arrest in Nairobi was shown on the front page of the Daily Nation, was later found dead in the city mortuary.

For most Kenyans, the acquisition of helicopters, night vision equipment and vicious dogs can only portend doom as far as personal freedoms are concerned.

By purchasing bigger weapons to arm a greater number of police and soldiers, the Kenyan government is treading a path set by authorities in situations of high wealth inequality. Kenya is among the top three most unequal societies on earth.

On one hand there is an extremely wealthy minority whose standard of living can comfortably secure them a place among the world’s rich and famous. On the opposite extreme is a majority of people without access to adequate food, housing, health care and education. These are people whose future is so bleak that the only options are crime, prostitution, alcoholism and violence.

Amidst this depressing scenario, authorities seek to preserve the status quo by unleashing greater surveillance of the disadvantaged majority. The objective is to make life safer and easier for the rich minority.

The fruits of economic growth are used to buy guns instead of building roads. Public funds are used to buy tanks instead of medicines for government hospitals. In an unequal society, the government will find it better to employ soldiers and police rather than employing doctors and teachers. Instead of facilitating constructive engagement between the rich and the poor, the system is designed to keep them apart.

Such trends have happened elsewhere and Kenya is blindly going down the same path. Unfortunately, that particular path usually ends up in self-destruction, for the human spirit cannot tolerate oppression forever.

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