The United States and the UN have launched a large-scale relief effort to what is left of the East African nation of Somalia. Since there is no government there — only warring clans — 3,000 UN troops will try to keep relief supplies from being stolen.
After several years of tribal warfare, drought, and famine, Somalia no longer exists. In what used to be the capital, Mogadishu, there is no industry and little commerce. The main activity is looting. Power cables have been dug up, so there is no electricity. Water pipes have been scavenged so there is no running water. There is no mail service, no police, no fire department, no government.
The only medical care is offered by foreign organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. European and American relief workers live in fortified compounds and move about in the chaos of Mogadishu only in the company of armed guards. An estimated 1,500 people die in the city every day from disease, starvation, and murder. Conditions are worse in the countryside, where perhaps two million people — almost half the population — are thought to be facing starvation.
Outside organizations have, of course, been sending aid. The Red Cross has mounted the largest relief effort in its history. A large part of the relief supplies is looted by gangs that operate on a grand scale. Late in August, thieves driving tanks plundered the UN’s central supply depot and made off with hundreds of tons of food and gasoline, and a convoy of trucks. For good measure, they shot and wounded two UN guards.
It is despicable that well-fed Somalis should steal food meant for Somalis who are starving. But is it not strange that outsiders should persist in sending food? In an Aug. 15 editorial, The Economist of London urged that rich countries should flood Somalia with so much free food that it would lose all value and thieves would ignore it; then relief workers could get on with their business.
Do outsiders have a responsibility to feed the Somalis when their own leaders — such as they are — are prepared to watch them starve? Overpopulation is the looming threat to all of Africa and the Third World. If we manage to keep two million Somalis alive during this famine, are we obliged to keep four million alive during the next? The squalor and lawlessness of our own cities should be a warning that charity is no cure for failure. The horrors from which Somalia suffers are mainly self-inflicted. Its people are not like Florida hurricane victims who, when set back on their feet, will rebuild their lives.
The Somalis have failed — as a nation, as a society, and as a people. Just as welfare at home rewards irresponsibility and breeds incompetence, aid to Somalia will reward looters and ensure only that Somalia will stagger on to its next and greater crisis. The impulse to feed the starving is a worthy one, but charity should never increase the need for charity. If we have an obligation to save Somalia do we not have the right to govern it, since the misfortunes of its people stem from their inability to govern themselves? Aid to Somalia will only add more helpless millions to the overburdened world we will leave to our children.