Biafra: 50 Years Of War That Made Famine A Weapon

Biafran mother and child desperately starved fro effects of the 'Economic Blockade.' Image: Getty


Biafra was synonymous with crying children with their belly swollen with hunger and with large collections of money. But beyond the photo of what was the first humanitarian disaster broadcasted by newspapers and television, the war in this region of Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, in uppercase, represents the imperfections with which colonialism closed in the 19th century. 'Africa .

This Wednesday, 50 years ago, the brutal war was over, once Igbo General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu raised the white flag of surrender after 961 days (2.6 years) of warlike war that led to hundreds of thousands of killed, most of them due to the military siege of the civilian population. The data varies by sources, with an estimated deaths of between 500,000 and two million people, but their balance is increased to three million. That war led to the birth of the NGO Doctors Without Borders.

Biafra was a war for the independence of a country that never existed as such around the great Niger Delta in southeastern Nigeria. Mostly Igbo, Christians and animists, the Biafres integrated into wider territories and, once Nigeria obtained its passport from the British in 1960, they were divided into three provinces. However, always coexisting with other ethnic groups, such as the Ogoni, the Idoma or the Igala. And maintaining, however, "an ethnic sentiment," says Omer Freixa, an Africanist historian at the Argentinian universities in Tres de Febrero and Buenos Aires.

But the Great River Delta is not only a source of ethnic and cultural diversity. It is also, and above all, the great source of wealth for natural resources, such as oil, which has weakened the engine of the Nigerian economy. The crude and the benefits of its exploitation are at the root of that war because, according to Freixa, Igbo people are "discriminated against and abused" by the federal government, whom they accuse of not redistributing wealth. In the background they point to a religiously based dispute because the Nigerian South is basically Christian, and the North is Muslim. This is a complaint found in all the DNA of sovereignty movements, but the Africanist historian emphasizes that the northern regions, with the majority Muslim population, are the poorest.

In this context of "ethnic, religious and social divide," says Òscar Mateos, professor and researcher at Global Codes at Blanquerna University, has to understand the biafrese conflict, the first postcolonial one. The United Kingdom and France - the region's great colonizing powers - used it to revive ancient border clashes. London sided with the Nigerian government, while France supported the Igbo in protecting the interests of their companies in Niger. Biafra was in favor of Francoist Spain, which organized Domund campaigns for the "Bold", and the apartheid regimes of South Africa and ancient Rhodesia, which saw in Biafra a way to divide Pan-Africanism. that was brewing.

The war began in May 1967 when Colonel Ojukwu declared independence from the Republic of Biafra, a challenge to the young dictatorship seeking to unite a large and diverse country, and which could not afford to be without resource extractions Nigerians do not show weakness in the face of a handful of rebels. "It is the first modern conflict in which famine is used as a weapon of war," says Oscar Mateos. The vast majority of victims died not in the trenches or wounds but from starvation.
Brutal siege.

One year after the commencement of the conflict, the Nigerian army begins a severe offensive with thousands of troops deployed across the territory controlling Igbo forces, and narrows the circle. For months, the military has burned crop fields, sabotaged humanitarian aid, and ultimately left Biafra isolated and without resources: creatures stripped down with their belly swollen with malnutrition, mothers who bring up children who have been left with children. skin and bone, immobile and without strength. The presence of graphic reporters captures the humanitarian drama that moves a world still in the midst of the Cold War. The story will be repeated the following decade, also on the continent, with the great famines of Ethiopia and Somalia.

It is thanks to the graphic testimony that the population in Europe and the United States is mobilizing to help those creatures, and from various countries tons of material and humanitarian help are sent, which will be a real headache for the International Committee of the Red Cross. 'organization in charge of managing it. The humanitarian entity maintains neutrality in the conflict, despite the loss of vital assistance to indiscriminate bombings and civilians. In this sense, Mateos, a member of the Africaye group, emphasizes that Biafra is the beginning of a debate about the role that NGOs can play. When Ojukwu surrenders to the cry of "As long as I live, Biafra will live," Bernard Kouchner and Jacques Mabit, who have worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, already disagree with his model and will establish Doctors Without Borders,

Five decades later, the Igbo identity sentiment continues, now spread across five federal states. Various parties and entities are calling for a referendum - which cannot be negotiated for Nigeria - and the creation of Biafra. Amnesty International has denounced the severe crackdown on sovereignty. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB (Biafra Indigenous People), was detained and imprisoned for sedition and treason, and is living in exile in London, from where Biafra Radio broadcasts. Kanu describes himself as a Jew because the Igbo people consider themselves a kind of chosen people and proclaim themselves Zionists.