It would be easier to list the tragedies that haven't befallen Somalia in its 51 years of independence than to list the ones that have. The Horn of Africa's archetypal failed state has suffered the signature geopolitical ill of every decade for half a century: post-colonial trauma and a coup in the 1960s, Cold War proxy conflict and military rule in the 1970s, famine in the 1980s, interminable civil war in the 1990s, Islamist terrorism and piracy in the 2000s.
But if the world had been Somalia's problem for years, it wasn't until the 1990s that Somalia returned the favor. The collapse of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's warlord-besieged government in January 1991 and the famine that ensued drew the United States and the United Nations into the ill-fated humanitarian mission that culminated in Black Hawk Down. The failure touched off a decade of U.S. angst over its post-Cold War role as the world's policeman, and served as a prologue to the U.N. peacekeeping failures -- Rwanda, Srebrenica -- of the years to come.
Since then, one crisis in Somalia has begat the next. The secular warlords of the 1990s has given way to the more inscrutable Islamist forces of the rebel group al-Shabab, and this summer the country has once again been struck by famine -- one which the United States, despite offering more than $500 million in aid, is in no hurry to intervene in militarily. But as Somali pirates have arisen as a serious threat to international commerce and the U.S. war on terrorism has expanded to encompass Yemen and other hard-to-reach places in the Horn of Africa, there is no escaping the fact that Somalia's problems are, more than ever, the world's problems as well.
Above, a boy looks through a fence as newly arrived Somali refugees wait outside a registration center at the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, on July 23.
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