Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Somalia Parallels



Somalia Parallels

Somalia Parallels

I was walking in the rain down one of the most flooded streets of Phnom Penh and

I was thinking how wise I was to walk . The notion, that otherwise I could be stopped

at gun-point and my vehicle driven away, made me feel comfortable even if I could

not see where I was putting my feet. I had time to think and I felt sad for Cambodia

and for these people who have changed so much since I arrived here years ago...

1986-1988: Two years of hell in Somalia trying to help the people, trying to do a

job with faith and confidence, trying to walk the streets in sunshine. And at dusk,

trying to speak and smile to the locals, trying to help beggars, trying to help the

small boys who watch the cars - sometimes two, sometime four of them fighting amongst

themselves. Sometimes eight, then more and more, coming out from every corner.

This crowd of people was suffocating, demanding, attacking. I had an old Suzuki jeep

which, through time, became increasingly naked: The handles gone, mirrors gone, indicators,

lights, number plates and, on top of everything, when there was nothing left to steal,

the brats liked to scratch the car, break windows, force locks, and slowly empty

the insides.

If you walked the streets of Mogadishu in the day, stones were thrown at you. After

dark, you risked an attack or were robbed or insulted.

When I came to Cambodia I thought I was out of my nightmare. There were the Khmers

with their sorrows, the memory of their sufferings, their warm smiles and their dignity.

Everyone was poor, everyone was proud. There were no beggars in the streets of Phnom

Penh. There was no garbage because there was not much to consume. A lot of poverty,

a lot of things to be done, a lot of help to be provided. They lived with little

and the little they had made them happy and they all had plenty of hope. At that

time the smile of the Cambodian children competed with the glow of the sun.

Times have changed. There is a lot of garbage in the streets; some of my old Khmer

friends have grown fat. They eat better, they dress better, they have replaced the

missing teeth, they have attained their dreams. But there is more poverty in Phnom

Penh now than ever.

The streets are full of beggars and the children do not smile the same smile anymore.

Buildings have been restored but others, which were beautiful even in their decadence,

have been demolished to host new-comers with dollars. Cafes have turned into brothels,

restaurants into cold empty dining rooms, and the peaceful expressions of the people

have turned into looks of tension and greed. But most of all they look unhappy.

The election is over and it was nobody's success. If someone thought to come here

and end the war, it did not happen. The war is not over. You still hear gunshots

day and night, and one never knows why.

It is out of fear and desperation that some Khmers have become thieves, killers and,

day-by-day, are losing their pride and dignity. The Khmers did not want their people

to beg in the street, they wanted to recreate themselves, they wanted their culture

and pride to emerge.

The Khmers have become a population of hysterical beings. They form gangs and steal

cars. They continue to blow up bridges, bomb trains and break into houses .

Terror is taking place and everyone of us - walking the street, driving a car, eating

in a restaurant - is terrified of what will happen next.

The contribution of the last foreign invasion, the unhealthy behavior towards this

country, and their departure, leaves a path of further uncertainty.

The invaders were ignorant of the right moves required to help save this part of

humanity. They unwillingly created misunderstanding and confusion and tempted Khmers

who are extremely vulnerable to greed and vendettas.

Something went wrong somewhere. Nobody cared to understand that these people wanted

peace and green rice-fields. They wanted their children's smile complete with the

glow of the sun.

Life in Cambodia has never been easy for the local population or for the foreigners

involved in aid assistance. We, friends of Cambodia, shared the same hope for a better

future. We believed the dream was coming true.

We wanted clean roads and to see happy children going to school. We wanted to see

hospitals functioning and we waited with courage, with patience, for all of this.

We and the Khmers are still waiting.

This is a country still facing many enemies: the people, the political power-struggle,

the guns, the mines, the floods and the droughts, the real misery and the illusion

of richness and splendor.

I felt as if I were walking down a street in Mogadishu but knowing the simple fact

that one cannot walk the streets of Mogadishu today. How much longer before we are

unable to walk the streets of Phnom Penh?

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and