U.N. Peacekeeping Effort in Somalia Slides Toward Warmaking

August 29, 1993|By FRANK NJUBI

Last week's dispatch of a U.S. quick reaction force to Somalia bodes ill for the U.N.'s new role as global peacemaker. What started out as a U.N. humanitarian and peacekeeping operation has turned into a United States-backed U.N. war against one warlord, Mohamed Farah Aidid.

The pursuit of General Aidid resembles the United States's 1989 intrusion into Panama to grab strongman Manuel Noriega. The bad guy has been identified, a price has been placed on his head, and the U.S. Army Rangers have been sent in to hunt him down.

In the frenzy of photo-ops and gun fights, the humanitarian reason for the U.N. intervention has been forgotten. Ironically, as the United Nations focuses its resources on the hunt for General Aidid in the capital city of Mogadishu, banditry is spreading in the rural areas.

But this obsession with General Aidid, the rejection of offers by Italy to mediate (despite its key involvement in the affairs of its former colony), and the continuing relegation of relief and development assistance to the back burner are short-sighted and dangerous.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that the removal of General Aidid will lead to the resolution of the crisis in Somalia. The northern half of the country has already broken away and formed the Somalialand Republic, and several other clan leaders are heavily armed and ready to resume fighting after U.N. forces leave.

Despite the improvement in the food situation, the U.N. military intervention has led to the deaths of scores of Somalis and mounting resentment against the United Nations and the United States. Most international relief organizations and some member countries with armed forces in Somalia are opposed to the U.S.-led military tactics.

"Africa Recovery," a U.N. publication, reports in its current issue that a total of $1 billion has been spent on military intervention by all participants, while relief and development assistance have received less than $20 million. The peacemakers are now spending $3 on armed intervention for every $1 they spend on development assistance.

Although the United States now likes to pose as the savior of the Somali people, it played a catalytic role in the anarchy that continues to engulf the country. That anarchy grew directly out of the bloody Siad Barre regime that the United States supported for so long.

For more than a decade, the United States helped Mr. Siad Barre build a huge military arsenal in return for his allowing the U.S. Navy to use Somalia's Red Sea ports during the Cold War. The United States withdrew support for Mr. Siad Barre in 1988 after congressional hearings confirmed that gross human rights abuses had been committed with U.S. weapons.

But the roots of the current violence go even deeper. Once forming one of the largest and most cohesive ethnic groups on the continent, the Somalis were split into five sections by the arbitrary borders drawn by the European colonialists in the 19th century. Today Somalis form a significant portion of the populations of Kenya, Ethiopia and the Sudan. They also make up the entire population of independent Djibouti and Somalia.

During the Cold War, the idea of a "Greater Somalia" was born with the aim of uniting, by military force, all Somali people into one country. This led, in the early 1970s, to the bloody and destructive war in Ethiopia's Ogaden province that petered out only when Mr. Siad Barre had to pull back because of the war's crushing costs. At the time, the Soviets and Cubans aided the Ethiopians while the United States provided arms and other logistical support to Mr. Siad Barre's forces.

Not surprisingly, resentment against foreign intervention runs high in Somalia. For the situation to be resolved, the United Nations must rely on mediation and negotiation instead of force of arms. And any settlement will have to involve all the parties in the conflict.

In this context the U.S. determination to eliminate General Aidid may backfire and instead create a martyr. The United States should stop its military adventurism now and focus instead on the long-term efforts of development and nation-building.

Frank Njubi, formerly on the editorial staff of The Daily Nation, Kenya's largest newspaper, is completing a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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