It was once a major center of trade, but the Horn of Africa has been plagued with failed states, terrorism and, most recently, pirates.
Timothy May, head of the Department of History & Philosophy at North Georgia College & State University, talked to a crowd of more than 50 about the region’s history and present state.
The lecture at the Forsyth County Public Library’s Sharon Forks branch was the third of eight in the ongoing “Great Decisions” series sponsored by the Dahlonega-based college.
Jim Colquitt, who has been to all three presentations, said this particular topic was something that excited him.
“You don’t really hear that much about it,” he said “You don’t sit in a Waffle House and talk about the Horn of Africa, so it’s interesting.”
May started with the Mongol Empire, then moved into the 1500s, highlighting the Portuegese invasion of the region.
He covered the Ottoman Empire and the European conquers of the 1800s, which secured most of the region for Britain and Italy.
The East African region, which began decolonization after World War II, is currently divided into Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti, the smallest of the four.
In 1993, Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, limiting Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea. There were some issues early on, but the two nations appear to be co-existing.
Most news of pirate attacks, May said, occur around Somalia, which had its downfall in 1969 with a coup d’etat, led by General Siad Barre.
The nation has since devolved to a point where warlords took control and “individual clans [are] running things.”
“Of course, all of them would like to be the premier power in Somalia,” he said. “And, of course, the other clans don’t want your clan to be the premier one.”
The U.S. got involved with the conflict in the 1990s, most notably the “Black Hawk Down” incident, in an effort to take down warlord control.
“No one wants to get into these nation-building exercises when there’s violence,” May said. “It leaves a bad taste in the international community’s mouth.”
But when it comes to Somalia, most people think about pirates.
“Besides the fancy clothes, they want money,” he said. “Who are the pirates? Basically a lot of poor guys — fishermen and all the people who really have nothing else to do.”
The pirates end up with a small cut of what they take. They are low on the totem pole. The real moneymakers are the individuals who bankroll the pirates.
“One of the guys that was captured by the United States received 37 years in jail,” May said. “The idea is that it’s going to send a strong message.
“It’s not going to send a strong message, because these guys don’t have anything to begin with.”
There are some pirates that have “gone legit,” he said, by serving governments to protect ships. But for the most part, pirates remain a problem in the region.
Laura and Pedro Sanabria were fascinated with Tuesday’s lecture, the second they have attended.
“This one I liked because I’m not really very conscious about the history of this area and it was an easy way to sort of get a summary about what’s happened there historically and then understand what’s happening today,” Laura Sanabria said.
For Pedro Sanabria, the lecture was “very educating.” He’s also looking foward to the next in the series, “Responding to the Financial Crisis,” which is set for March 8 at the library.