By Arab News
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
When we studied geography during my school days, Somalia was one of the countries that fascinated us with its agricultural products. There were Saudis in the sixties who would travel to Somalia and talk about how fertile the land was. And would bring with them some of these products to families in Saudi Arabia. At that time, not every Saudi or Gulf family was able to secure nutritious three meals a day. But, Somalis were very active in producing the best bananas in the world. Somalia was the main source of red meat for Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states. The population of Somalia is now ten million. It was much less during the sixties.
In 1960, Somalia was officially united and became independent. It was the most important strategic country in Africa. Somalia has the longest shoreline in Africa and fishing is a very important source of income apart from tourism. At the peak of the Cold War, Somalia took advantage of its strategic location and was spoiled by the East and West. This is why at some time during the seventies, it had the largest army in Africa. When Somalia won independence in 1960, their first President Aden Abdullah Daar was a well-respected figure internationally. The Somalis had a change of government in a coup on Oct. 21, 1969 and Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre became the new president. At that time Somalia enjoyed a clout among African nations in a lot of fields. They had a strong military and economy. And they were so powerful they could challenge superpowers and decided in July 1977 to incorporate the predominantly Somali-inhabited Ogaden region into greater Somalia. During these times, in 1974 the Somali president was the chairman of the Organization of the African Unity (OAU). Somalia in the past had a powerful position on the world stage.
Things changed in the year 1991. The president was ousted and civil war started and with it came the calamity that is still bedeviling Somalia.
Somalia now is the poorest, most dangerous and most unstable country in the world. There is no law. These days, we see starving children and sick mothers in Somalia, but we also see pirates and warlords. Why there is starvation in a country that has thousands of miles of shorelines suitable for fishing? The land of Somalia can be the breadbasket of the Middle East. Yet, every Somali is starving. Now, every country in the world wants to help Somalia feed its people. Saudi Arabia started a telethon to raise money for Somalia, but hours after the start of the telethon, the news about a failed piracy attempt against a Saudi ship and a successful takeover of another Gulf ship by Somali pirates hit the world headlines.
So, the question is how food aid would be delivered. Also, are the Somalis going to help get the aid to the right place and the right people or is it going to be used by the warlords? Will Somalia help aid organizations to monitor the distribution of food and medicine? Why can’t the Somalis put down their weapons and stop wasting money on chewing Qhatt and buying weapons and help each others? If the Somalis don’t settle their own differences, no one will be able to do it for them. Now, every country is beset with economic recession and some Arab and Muslim brothers are in deep crisis. The Somalis have one chance to help their country to stand on its feet again and be part of the international community.
Somalia did not have any government since 1991. And Somalia didn’t have to lose its ability to cultivate one of the most fertile lands and the richest deep-water fishing in Africa.
Now, the question that a lot of people ask is: Why starvation occurs in Muslim countries that have rivers, rich soil, raw materials and abundance of labor? We saw famine and starvation in Sudan, shortage of food in Egypt, empty super markets in Libya even during the peak of oil prices, riots in some Arab countries because of shortages of bread and its high prices. Syria had the best cotton crops and sweetest potatoes in the Middle East, but they exchanged it for rusty tanks from Russia.
International aid to Somalis is vital and a good gesture, but what is next? Are the Somali warlords going to put down their weapons, cultivate their land and educate their children? Because feeding the children should come from the inside not the outside.
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim can be contacted at: [email protected]