Jeyachandran Family

Black Hawk Down - When helping hurts

21 Mar 2013

While waiting for Christine at a cafe I casually browsed their second-hand bookshelf and picked up a book called "Black Hawk Down". After reading a couple of pages I couldn't stop reading it.

Black Hawk Down is a gripping true story set in Somalia in October 1993. After a years of civil war and a devastating famine the UN moved in to distribute food and to help stabilize the country. It became very clear that the millions of dollars in food aid pouring into the country would never reach the people in most need when the country was controlled by roving armed gangs. How could poverty be alleviated in these difficult conditions? For some time there were unsuccessfully attempts to engage the warring clans in peace talks. Then on the afternoon of the 3rd October 1993 the US led a daring daytime mission that hoped to begin the road to stability in a country that desperately needed it. The plan was to abduct two senior leaders connected with a Somali warlord and bring them to justice.

Things went wrong! What was supposed to be a quick two-hour mission turned into a bloody battle with hundreds killed and more than a thousand injured. Why didn't the Somalis understand that this team of soldiers were there to help ultimately bring peace? Thousands instead turned up in force, forgetting their tribal differences and united to fight against the US soldiers. The result was terrible carnage. The mission was a success as far as capturing two leaders of this Somali warlord but did nothing to advance peace in the country or alleviate poverty. It created a bitterness on all sides and to many Somalis, a deeper level of poverty.

What went wrong? Why didn't this UN intervention bring real change? Almost 20 years later the civil war continues. Why are people in Somalia no better economically and possibly worse off than before?

Another book titled "When helping hurts" deals with the question "How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor… or yourself". I like the book because it begins with a Biblical foundation. There is one important concept that runs through the book. Poverty is not just an economic problem with an economic solution. There may be some deep underlying problems and economic poverty may be just one of the symptoms.

More to read:


Now it's your turn

What do you think is an underlying problem in Somalia? Is it possible to help?