Biafra War’s Legacy Lingers In Nigeria: Chinua Achebe Memoir

By IndepthAfrica
In Nigeria
Sep 28th, 2012

BY Jacey Fortin

But for world-famous author and scholar Chinua Achebe, 81, the Biafran War of 1967-1970 is more than a moment in history. It is a lesson that should not be forgotten, especially as Nigeria witnesses a new wave of sectarian violence that threatens to split Africa’s most populous nation again.

Achebe’s new memoir, “There Was a Country,” was published in the United Kingdom on Thursday. It will hit the shelves in Nigeria any day now, and will be available in the United States on Oct. 11.

It tells the story of Achebe’s experiences in the Nigerian Civil War, when he served as a diplomat representing the would-be breakaway republic called Biafra.

Achebe is most famous for his 1958 novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which won him international acclaim. He now makes his home in Rhode Island, where he is a professor at Brown University. But with his new memoir, he hopes to remind his countrymen of a conflict not so dissimilar from the one that threatens to erupt in Nigeria today.

The price of such a clash could be horrific, just as it was during the days of Biafra’s attempted secession. In total, up to 3 million people — most of whom were civilians — lost their lives during less than three years of civil war.

A Forgotten Story

As often happened during the era of African colonialism, the British carved out the territory of Nigeria with little regard for ethnic, linguistic and cultural variations. When the country gained independence in 1960, the differences between regions of Nigeria were stark. Most northern Nigerians followed Islam, whereas Christianity had taken root more easily in southern regions.

Southern communities had a stronger tradition of participatory democracy. They also suffered less poverty, having access to more natural resources than did the people in the semi-arid northern reaches of Nigeria.

Accustomed as they were to sovereignty and political efficacy, southern Nigerians were determined not to fall under the arbitrary rule of leaders who were culturally foreign to them. So when a 1966 coup put a northern general in control of the country, it did not sit well with southern leaders.

But the real tipping point was inter-ethnic violence, which erupted during the mid-1960s and was most frequently committed against members the southeastern Igbo tribe. In May 1967, after tens of thousands of Igbo people had lost. Read More HERE

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