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Thursday, 6 February 2020

I Wonder Why Genocidal Scholars Omit Biafra Genocide In Their Articles (Part 3)

I Wonder Why Genocidal Scholars Omit Biafra Genocide In Their Articles (Part 3)
Biafran refugees flee federal Nigerian troops on a road near Ogbaku, Nigeria in this 1968 photo. Between one and three million people are estimated to have died. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)

The situation had not changed appreciably by the 2000s. Harff, again excluded the 1966 massacres from her survey of genocide and political mass murder since 1955 because the government was not complicit in killings carried out by private groups and again she omitted the subsequent war and famine. No mention was made of the Nigeria–Biafra war in the canonical century of genocide anthology in 2004, nor in the fourth edition of 2013, although the third edition (2009) contained a chapter with few paragraphs on the war in relation to undefeated perpetrator regimes. Ben Kiernan’s mammoth, prize-winning world history of genocide, makes no mention of Biafra despite purporting to cover ‘genocide and extermination from Sparta to Darfur’. Neither does it appear in new books on ‘forgotten’ and ‘hidden’ genocides, if at all, it is briefly mentioned in passing, as in Benjamin Valentino’s monograph on mass killing and genocide in the twentieth century and Philip Spencer’s Genocide since 1945. Usually, genocide scholars do not even list Biafra among the cases excluded from their definition of genocide.

The exclusion of the Biafran case from genocide studies has been virtually as complete as it has been unnoticed. Until the Bosnian and Rwandan cases of 1994, the canonical genocides were the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. The first comparative genocide studies conference, held in Israel in 1982, was limited to these cases. This selection can perhaps be explained by the biographies of the founding generation of genocide scholars, who were in the main Holocaust survivors or their children, Israelis and Armenians. Yet, as Melson’s journey indicates, the Holocaust was not the initial focus. It was too traumatic to write about the Holocaust early in his life, he wrote later. The interest in post-colonial Africa functioned as a displacement.

As did so many of my generation growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s, I had hoped that Africa, the so called Third World, would avoid the recent horrors of Europe. The Biafran case spurred him less to explore contemporary Africa and similar contemporary cases. However, than to go back in time, I knew I had to return to the Holocaust to try to make sense of it both at the level of personal emotion and in some broader comparative intellectual perspective.120 Europe’s traumatic past, then, led to a commitment to post-colonial reconstruction and then back to the Holocaust when these hopes for the new post-colonial nation states were dashed. After spending 1977 in Jerusalem, overlooking the occupied Judean desert and Dead Sea from the Hebrew University’s elevated campus, he decided to work on the Holocaust and became a charter member of the Jewish studies programme at his home institution, Purdue University in Indiana, USA making a case to compare to the Holocaust, Melson settled on Armenia rather than Biafra—or Cambodia—because it most resembled [the Holocaust]. 122 Fein, too, had initially written about colonial violence after a period of anti-Vietnam war activism before rediscovering her Jewish identity while living in India in the early 1970s and resolving to work on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism genocide and refugees.

In a very concrete sense, the canonization of the Holocaust and Armenian genocide came at the conceptual expense of Biafra and other so-called partial colonial and post-colonial genocides. From the massacre of the Igbos at Kano, Nigeria in 1953 after an uprising of indigenes against Easterners to the pogroms of 1966, a systematic attempt was made to exterminate Easterners, including women and children.

It was estimated that between 36,000 and 42,000 Easterners where killed in the pogroms. Over a million Igbos died as a result of these pogroms and the war itself. Indeed, if it is difficult to establish motives and intent to commit genocide against the Igbos in earlier massacres, it is less so with the hostilities of 1966 and the official war broke out 1967. The deliberate policy of starving the civilian population of Biafra, the bombing of civilian targets, the gruesome and barbaric methods of killing Biafran civilians were clearly planned and executed with the intent of annihilating them. Evidence of substantial motivation and incitement to commit the crime of genocide laced the speeches by Northern intellectuals, bureaucrats and politicians.

There was genocide against the Igbo people. Just as Frederick Forsyth said: "What is truly shameful is that this was not done by savages but aided and assisted at every stage by Oxbridge-educated British mandarins. Why? Did they love the corruption-driven, dictator-prone Nigeria? No. From start to finish, it was to cover up that the UK’s assessment of the Nigerian situation was an enormous judgemental screw-up. And, worse with neutrality and diplomacy from London, it could all have been avoided.
Biafra is little discussed in the UK these days – a conflict overshadowed geopolitically by the Vietnam War, which raged at the same time. Yet, the sheer nastiness of the British establishment during those three years, remains a source of deep shame that we should never forget".

In all, I would say big thanks to Chima J. Korieh for his write-ups about Biafra genocide which I found useful and needed to increase the tempo.

Written by Obulose Chidiebere N.

Edited by Domendu Emilia
For Family Writers Press International

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