1991

The pilot episode of my favorite television show, The Wonder Years, began with a reflective first person narrator extolling the many virtues of the year 1969.  Though speaking as an adult, he is describing the year as he experienced it as a freshman in high school.   Essentially, he says, the music was exciting, television was entertaining, and, I believe, Denny McLain won 31 games, the last pitcher to reach 30 wins in a season.  As he speaks, and in clear juxtaposition to his light monologue, the screen shows news footage from the more serious events of that year: the inauguration of Richard Nixon, Apollo 11, the Vietnam War.

I began my freshman year of high school in 1991.  I honestly do not remember much of consequence happening that year.  I suspect it was a good year for Nirvana.  A film by Steven Spielberg probably dominated the summer box office.  I think that was the year Michael Jordan won his first basketball championship.

Of course, I recall that 1991 was also the year of the war in the Persian Gulf.  I believe it was “the mother of all wars.”  Frankly, embarrassingly, if it were not for Dana Carvey and Saturday Night Live, I probably would not remember even that much about it.

I have learned since that in at least one part of the world, the Horn of Africa, 1991 was a very eventful year.  In Sudan, Hassan al Turabi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Osama bin Laden, recently chased from Saudi Arabia, began experimenting with a repressive version of political Islam that later reappeared as the Taliban in Afghanistan.  In Somalia, a tribal militia that called itself the United Somali Congress expelled the dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in a nationwide orgy of cruelty and bloodshed.  And in Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest war was concluded, violently, when Eritrean and Tigrayan rebels finally defeated the military government of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.

The Fund for Peace, a research body based in Washington whose mission is “promoting sustainable security,” recently released its third annual ranking of the world’s “failed states.”  Surprisingly, Somalia, which has not had a national government since 1991, is not number one but number three.  Sudan is number one.  Ethiopia is also on the list, at number 18 of the 177 countries that were ranked.

Kenya is the only country to border all three of these failed states: Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.  It is the only country that is even remotely free and stable in the Horn of Africa.  Consequently, it literally bears the brunt of any spillover when its neighbors implode and collapse.  Kenya consistently ranks among those countries in the world that host the greatest number of refugees.  While it does not rank as highly countries like Iran and Pakistan, both of whom host approximately a million refugees from the war in Afghanistan alone, Kenya currently has, and has had for years, over 250,000 refugees living within its borders.  They come to Kenya from all over Africa, though the vast majority are from near neighbors Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.  Many of these – the Lost Boys of Sudan, the Darod of Somalia, the Oromo of Ethiopia – fled their homes because of the regionally explosive events of 1991.

At the time, I was doing what teenage boys, and girls, all over America were doing, and, arguably, should have been doing.  I was singing along: “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.”

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