Why the Worst that Could Happen in Somalia Probably Will

WILLIAM PFAFF

June 17, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris.--What Somalia in fact needs is neo-colonialism; but it is not going to get it.

The Somalians are likely to end in still deeper chaos as a result of the American and U.N. interventions of the past few months, climaxing in ambushed U.N. troops, U.S. air attacks and clashes between the U.N. forces and Somalians protesting foreign interference.

Somalia needs government. Thanks in part (but only in part) to past colonial interventions, which destroyed traditional social structures, and to the Cold War exploitation of the country's internal divisions by Russians and Americans in the 1970s, the Somalians have been incapable of giving themselves stable and competent government, even when left alone to try.

Factions and warlords anxious to impose their self-interested power have produced chronic, ruthless and, for the past three years (as well as the foreseeable future), unresolvable civil struggle, while inflicting pillage and starvation upon the Somalian people.

In theory, the United Nations could provide a needed neo-colonialism, which could take the legal character of a mandated governing authority imposed by the world community.

The warlords would have to be disarmed, rather than negotiated with (as the United States initially did, when it intervened in December), a provisional civil administration set up throughout the country, programs of long-term social development, education and economic reconstruction begun, all with the ambition of handing government back to Somalians in a decade, perhaps two, possibly three.

All of which, of course, is nonsense. That's what the European colonial powers in Africa claimed to be doing 30 years ago, and what some of them were doing. However the winds of anti-imperialism, swept to storm strength by World War II, destroyed European colonialism during the 1950s and 1960s -- even high-minded colonialism.

No one is going to re-establish it now, not in the 20th Century. (We will see about the 21st.)

When the American gunships have finished their work, the Pakistani troops and their successors been replaced, and the media swarm has moved on to its next victim, Somalia -- a decent interval elapsed -- will be handed back to its warlords and to starvation.

It has needed policemen, agronomists, engineers, book-keepers, civil administrators. It got an occupying army, without a coherent political mission, dominated by doctrines of technical solutions and overkill.

Now everyone faces the consequences, but only the Somalians will suffer them, because all the rest, except perhaps for endlessly brave and patient aid workers, will eventually go home.

The facile comparisons made between intervention in Somalia and in ex-Yugoslavia are profoundly mistaken, which is why both affairs have turned out so badly. Somalia has needed government, but will not get it. Yugoslavia already has four competent governments, three of them at war with one another (while the fourth, Slovenia, has managed to slip aside).

All three of the belligerent governments possess popular legitimacy and the capacity, left alone, to function as well (or badly) as the other governments of Balkan Europe.

The war is the result of the attempt by two of them to expand at the expense of the third, whose territories they wish to annex, chiefly but not exclusively the territories populated by minorities dTC of their own nationality (while expelling the rest of those territories' occupants).

The object of international intervention should have been to defend international legality, interdict aggression and protect human rights as guaranteed under international covenants.

No one has asked the United Nations to supply Yugoslavia with a new government or governments, national reconciliation, a solution to its nationality problems or an overall political settlement.

Yet the United Nations, the European Community and the United States, to the extent it has allowed itself to become involved, have attempted to accomplish all of those impossible tasks they were not asked to perform, while ignoring those objectives they were potentially competent to achieve.

This was because the former, being unachievable, were soft options, while the latter, being serious, were hard options, involving commitment and risk.

By attempting to do what it is incompetent to do, the United Nations, as agent of the nebulous international community, has lost authority and undermined its capacity to function credibly in future crises.

This is a great tragedy, because in Africa and elsewhere in the non-Western world, as well as in the troubled countries that have emerged from the Communist bloc, the international community's help is needed.

Intellectual confusion and policy disorder, and of course the cowardice of the democracies' leadership, have undermined the prospect that they will get that help.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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