Death of Somalia

July 05, 1992

A few years ago there were 8 million Somalis; now there are 7 million. Somalia as a nation has disappeared. The diplomatic corps gone. Hospitals looted. The overthrow of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre last year, which should have rescued the country from misrule, has led to anarchy and breakdown. Somalian clan armies destroy each other and anything in sight. Their weapons are the ones the U.S. supplied to Siad Barre, or that earlier the Soviet Union did, or that later Libya did.

Relief agencies toss out such figures as 1.5 million Somalis in danger of starvation, or 4.5 million who will face hunger if food is not forthcoming. Others dispute those figures. Who knows? Somalis by the thousands have fled to Ethiopia and Kenya, the former seized with civil war and the latter with unrest and both with drought. Now Somali boat people are desperately seizing any craft to cross the Gulf of Aden and wash ashore at Yemen, where 50,000 are in camps and newcomers are penned up on beaches to die of dehydration in the sun.

Somalia belongs to both African and Arab organizations. It should have friends. The emir of Kuwait, who gave $1.9 million to save the London Zoo for six months, would probably call himself one, as would the royal house of Saudi Arabia. Italy and the United States and Libya and Russia all at one time professed friendship.

Surely it does not take much to put up a tent on the Yemen shore, to send more food than the United Nations has to northern Kenya, to send food with armed protection insuring dispersal to hungry civilians in Mogadishu. Nearly 90 members of Congress of both parties wrote President Bush asking for leadership in international efforts at humanitarian aid.

There was a time when a country like Somalia could keep afloat during the Cold War by renting itself to the highest bidder. Now there is no bidder. Somalia has nothing to offer. So its people are abandoned to starve with help only from a few relief agencies that had no Cold War agenda. And the worst murderers of all are the Somali mutineers who overthrew Siad Barre in the name of freedom and who now slaughter their own kin.

Too bad Somalia can't become an issue in the U.S. election campaign. If Messrs. Bush, Clinton and Perot fell over each other claiming who would feed more Somalis, a few hundred thousand of them might live who are otherwise going to die.

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