Somalian Catastrophe

August 17, 1992

Hundreds of thousands if not millions of Somalis will die because of world respect for Somalia's supposed sovereignty. That sovereignty consists of warring clans practicing what would be called genocide, except that the people they are destroying are their own.

Now that a clan warlord has given his permission to the United Nations, the U.S. has undertaken to fly 500 well-armed Pakistani soldiers to Somalia to protect U.N. food supplies, and cannot do it too soon. If violations of sovereignty are needed to prevent the brigands from stealing the supplies and to get the food to the dying, then those transgressions should be risked in the name of the U.N.

In much of Somalia, the living no longer bury the dead. The former are too weak, the latter too many. They drop every day. Millions are waiting to die. The lucky ones made it to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia or across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen, and all of these countries are trying to prevent more from coming.

Somalia was misgoverned for 21 years by Mohammed Siad Barre, who was first a Soviet and then an American client. Cheers at his overthrow in January 1991, however, were premature. The country disintegrated into fiefdoms of the warring clans, their soldiers terrorizing the whole populace. A greater evil than ever grips the country. The U.N. could not distribute food because the brigands controlling the ports took the food and denied it to their countrymen. This condition is worse in the south near the capital, Mogadishu, than in the northwest around the port of Berbera.

If 4.5 million of the remaining 7 million Somalis are in danger of starving, this is no surprise to any authority. It was seen coming months ago. There is no food in Somalia. If no one brings any, the people will die.

Somalia suffers the drought afflicting most of Africa. Mere nature, however, can be overcome with emergency food supplies from Europe and America. What created the catastrophe is human and Somalian. The people in charge are willfully starving the others. It is an atrocity by petty rulers against their own people, on a scale with the butchery of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. This outrage is less planned, less philosophically based, than the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, but as massively fatal.

Islamic, African and Arab countries ought to come to the aid of these people, who are all three. The U.S. ought to help, especially with logistics. And it should quit worrying about permission from robbers and murderers to do it.

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