Ojukwu and Biafra
[Ojukwu] said very little but I wanted to ask a simple question, so when the session ended I managed to stop him for a moment and ask if he had any regrets about the war. He paused but did not turn his head. “History does not repeat itself,” he growled. “But if it did, I would do exactly the same again. Excuse me.” He moved on.
That is from Richard Dowden’s post to the African Arguments blog, “Revisiting Biafra: Civil War Leader Ojukwu Dies.” In the post, Dowden makes clear the impact Biafra has had in the past half century on defining war in Africa as well as defining the West’s image of Africa.
With a general interest in African political history and having taken a number of courses in African politics, it wasn’t until two years ago when I read Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (a work of fiction) that I learned about the Biafran war. (This is mildly embarrassing, but I believe in truth-telling even when it hurts.)
For those who don’t know, Odumegwu Ojukwu led the fight for Biafran independence. He was the military governor of the eastern region in Nigeria during the pogroms against Igbos in northern Nigeria (1966), and he declared the eastern region — newly named Biafra — as independent from Nigeria. The war for independence lasted nearly three years and ended shortly after Ojukwu fled to Cote d’Ivoire. He returned to Nigeria in 1981. Ojukwu died in London Saturday after a long illness.
In my African Politics class, I devote one lecture to Biafra, and I’ve played this address by Ojukwu:
It is a challenge to read Half of a Yellow Sun and to listen to Ojukwu’s address and not wonder what it would be like if today Biafra was an independent nation.