Rule of Law & Maritime Capacity Building in Somalia: Part 1

David Hammond recounts some of his experiences and lessons learnt as a UK representative and maritime legal advisor in Somalia.

I have been in some of the world’s most dangerous places. I have worked amongst and around interesting people including common murderers, trained killers, potential war criminals and individuals who would not think twice about either seriously injuring or killing you without a hint of remorse. Up to three months ago, I undertook this with the benefit of the highly professional support network that was Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. As of early February however, this level of assurance and protection for undertaking day-to-day work effectively ended upon my retirement from the Royal Marines after 22 years, the last six of which were spent appointed as a naval barrister.

Giving myself 12 hours off between careers, I was shortly to commence my first independent instruction on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and boarded a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi. There, I was to be the UK representative and maritime legal advisor for the Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) for the European Union’s Regional Maritime Capacity Building (EU RMCB) programme in East Africa. Four weeks, five countries, 15 flights and having crossed the equator four times later, I was back in Brussels to complete the remainder of the detailed planning and recruitment for what has been formally adopted by the European Commission as the “EU RMCB Legal Advisory Programme”.

In a nutshell, I was instructed to provide general counsel and maritime advice for the creation of a legal programme comprising a small cadre of maritime and international lawyers to be imminently recruited from the 27 EU member states. By mid-2012, these lawyers will be embedded throughout five East African states (Djibouti, Somalia (including Somaliland and Puntland), Kenya, Tanzania and the Republic of the Seychelles), themselves capable of providing expert legal advice across a range of disciplines relating to expanding EU counter-piracy initiatives.

This cadre has been primarily established in support of the development and application of the rule of law in relation to maritime capacity building and specifically, in respect to the on-going fight against piracy throughout the Horn of Africa. It includes the provision of expertise in areas covering legislative drafting, court administration, assistance to academic institutions for the development of future legal degree programmes, judicial training and proposed wide-ranging law reform. Such reform principally covers maritime and maritime-related legislation such as Maritime Security and Coastguard Acts, though also extends to key related documents including the revision of criminal procedure rules and the Seychelles “Black Book” of national legislation.

The issue of maritime capacity building and the fight against piracy is not a new subject. It is one that many chambers and firms involved in the maritime sphere of business are all too familiar with, especially in the fields of hijack, kidnap and ransom. Most recently, the 23 February London Conference on Somalia hosted by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, saw a significant amalgamation of international stakeholders aiming at further addressing the on-going reconstruction and development of Somalia, as well as examining the results of the failure to effectively implement the rule of law, as exampled by the continuing acts of piracy on the High Seas.

In concert with established anti-piracy and related penal reform programmes run by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nairobi, as well as maritime training initiatives introduced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the EU seeks to further develop in-country legal capabilities. Ultimately, these proficiencies will be delivered by indigenous lawyers and which will contribute to expanding the weighting and influence of the rule of law throughout East Africa. It was the development of such capabilities through individual country legal projects that I found myself requested to assist with and which was predicated upon my previous experience within the region.

Noting the word limits for such articles, I would like to share just a few of my experiences and lessons learnt in Somalia. There, I found myself developing legal projects and programmes at both ministerial, chief justice and Attorney General (AG) level, often at minimal notice of access to those said persons, having to create and/or exploit opportunities as they presented themselves and at times working under direct threat of kidnap or at worst, close quarters assassination or “CQA”. I did however take comfort on more than one occasion that I was worth more alive than dead. I also appreciated the specialist training I have previously received for such eventualities and which provided a strong degree of reassurance.

Firstly however, let me establish some context and background to the EU assessment team’s activities in Somalia (Somaliland and Puntland) and the conditions under which we were working.

Somaliland

The town of Hargesia in the independently declared but internationally unrecognised state of Somaliland (formerly British Somaliland) appears out of the desert as a tightly grouped mass of civilisation. The main part of the town sits within a dusty bowl with high rocky ground all around and despite the lack of obvious surface water, sub-surface reserves are seemingly ample enough to support life while also providing full buckets to hand wash numerous new four-wheel drive vehicles, most of which have blacked out windows supporting the owners preference of anonymity.

Here, recycling has been perfected out of necessity. Poverty is significant, hunger a daily battle and wealth is in the hands of the less scrupulous members of the clans. The streets are mostly dirt tracks running between tightly packed dwellings of varying standards and which themselves tightly abut numerous local businesses. They are narrow, busy, littered with car wrecks, goats, humanity and little opportunity for escape should you be ambushed.

Lesson one

As I have alluded to, I have been in some interesting places in my former career but the confined road layout in Hargesia made me nervous, while the sometimes less-than-convivial atmosphere certainly heighted the senses when out and about on the ground. In short, the best defences were a good driver, the trust in the allocated local guards, protected vehicles and genuine politeness. Lesson one. You never know just how far a smile, handshake, a polite “thank you” and the occasional hand out of $1 bills will assist with your life expectancy.

Lesson two

In the afternoons, the narcotic plant Khat is religiously chewed as a long-established regional social custom. The leaf contains an amphetamine like stimulant which makes the chewer excitable and euphoric. It is grown, amongst other places, on the cool slopes of Mount Kenya. Cut early in the morning, it is bagged up and illegally flown into Somalia in the early afternoon, thereby assuring its freshness and the highest street value. Lesson two. Do not plan afternoon meetings; they are not the most productive.

Lesson three

The Somali people hide their age well. It is nearly impossible to place a figure in terms of years to a person, though many who carried guns and the obligatory mobile phone seemed very young and therefore from personal experience, were dangerous. The youth enjoy wielding power, dominance and demand respect; therefore as much as it seems mad to do so, it is often in your best interest to show strength in the face of a screaming individual whose apparent angst and vitriol is directed squarely at you. This often occurs over what would appear trivial matters. Strength gains you respect amongst the younger generations but seems, in the first instance, to be a dangerous gamble with your life when you initially have to respond as such. Lesson three. Know your audience, respect them and never underestimate them.

Effect and threat of the internet

Perversely, the cost of and access to the internet, as well as the ability to make international calls was both surprisingly cheap and freely available. This goes against your initial perception and assessment of the obvious limits of an otherwise inhospitable environment. In fact, the internet was faster in Somaliland at our secure compound than anywhere else we visited in East Africa. Therein, however, lies a fundamental problem and direct threat to the Somali way of life; that being the ready access to western perspectives of personal wealth, perceived personal freedoms pulling away from the established family structure, the trend for a lack of respect for religion, as well as the introduction of the darker side of the internet.

This was a key topic of discussion with the Ministers for Justice in both Somaliland and Puntland and it highlighted that even in the most inhospitable places in East Africa, the internet is able to affect and arguably distort the perceptions of the indigenous populations. On a positive note nevertheless, it did mean that the local lawyers would be able to access online legal databases and which was an identified ‘quick win’ within one of the specific projects I was establishing.

Puntland

In comparison, the nomadic town of Garrowe in Puntland is bounded by a wide and steep-sided wadi. Though the rains have reportedly not fallen for 10 years and the wadi is full of litter, camels and goats in equal abundance, the sub-surface water supply once again supports a thriving community. The population has also been significantly assisted by the building of the singular Italian-built tarmac road that stretches up to the north coast and which previously saved the population during the periods of extreme drought and famine. If therefore you are Italian or indeed speak Italian, your chance of a friendly response from the local population is increased, though notably not assured.

The streets in Garrowe are wider than Hargeisa and there appears more order and financial investment in the community. Armed militia are nonetheless everywhere, identified by their faded green and brown fatigues, leather sandals and well-kept AK47s slung over their shoulders. It maybe dusty and the AK47s may look battered, but I can assure you that those weapons work.

In terms of established presence, the various non-governmental organisation (NGO) compounds, as well as the UN compound are very well protected. This is an obvious clue to the level of personal threat and should not be ignored. The indigenous security is also significant and armed Somali ‘technical vehicles’ patrol the streets; these being flatbed 4x4s with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers welded to the chassis. They seem improbable in their creation but are highly effective as the American forces found in Mogadishu in 1993.

When travelling by vehicle, the assessed chance of kidnap inside Garrowe without an armed guard was 50%, while the same assessment for departing outside of the town limits was 100%. The best bet therefore was to be under the care of a minister, the AG, or as I found in the Garrowe court complex as the only European; the Director of Public Prosecutions, despite him speaking no English. At this juncture, I do admit to employing our AG’s name and my junior position on the Bar Council to attempt to gain some initial credibility amongst my legal audiences. I trust I will be forgiven for the brazen use, but needs must and I considered my life more important.

Accordingly, with a rolled up counsel’s notebook in hand there was some thought-provoking and interesting work to be embarked upon. What subsequently ensued will be outlined in the next edition of Counsel.

David Hammond, Barrister-at-Law, Pupil of Quadrant Chambers, London

Category: