How to Help Somalia

August 26, 1992

Somalia cries out for international intervention. There is no sovereignty, no national integrity left to violate. Any doubts about that are ended by the vivid and heart-wrenching reporting of The Sun's Richard O'Mara in a series of articles Sunday. It is a picture of total breakdown, anarchy and chaos following the overthrow of a dictator, with no system of life support that still works, and gangs with guns ruling bits of turf and clan in what had been an authentic nation and nationality.

Africa's drought is the part of the famine that can be overcome by foreign aid and relief agencies. Millions of Somalis are hungry or starving or dead, however, because Somalian gangsters steal food sent for relief and deny it to the starving. To distribute food to the dying takes bigger guns than the gangsters have, which relief workers do not carry.

The American airlift of food to Somali refugee camps in northern Kenya, just completed, and the plan for American planes to ferry Pakistani soldiers to protect relief operations, are a good start at dealing with mass starvation that has been inevitable for 18 months. But such actions will not end Somalia's anarchy. Only Somalians can do that, and as of now it is the last thing they can do.

The argument for military intervention is good. That does not make such an operation feasible. A model for what might be done in the Horn of East Africa lies in Liberia, a tragic country with profound American connections in West Africa. Liberia was dissolving into a comparable chaos after its dictator was overthrown. Troops of five members of the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) entered last year and provide what little stability there is. This is not neo-colonialism; it is African collective security. It has not established a legitimate national regime for Liberia, but has been enough of a success to take Liberia off the news pages.

Somalia's immediate neighbors -- Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya -- are in no position to do the same. Especially Ethiopia, which harbors its own tyranny and chaos and has been in conflict with Somalia over people and territory. But the basis for quelling this anarchy and butchery lies in Somalia's African, Arab and Islamic identities. The concern of African countries, the wealth of nearby Arab countries and the strength of Islamic countries such as Pakistan should all be joined to save the people of this tormented country.

United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has demanded more U.N. action in Somalia, especially compared with the amount of U.N. activity surrounding the "rich man's war" in Bosnia. He is right, but it is more than the European and American powers that must heed his call.

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