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Humanitarianism in Africa  

Bronwen Everill

The history of humanitarianism in Africa has been shaped largely by the history of unequal power relations and the struggle between preservative and progressive approaches to the unintended consequences of intervention. As foreign powers and individuals became involved in identifying and aiding African “victims,” both action and inaction were fraught with political consequences that required further intervention. These interventions ranged from direct emergency assistance to longer-term development goals; from military aid to post-conflict state-building and capacity-building; from small-scale interventions by individuals through service missions to annual, multi-billion-dollar governmental aid packages. Although the scale and approach to humanitarian assistance varied dramatically over the continent and across two and a half centuries, humanitarian impulses were consistently based on the desire to help and were also consistently critiqued both in Africa and elsewhere. Imperialism and humanitarianism have been overlapping and interlocking ideologies in the African context, but independent African states, individuals, and marginalized groups have also made use of humanitarian language and ideology to further their own goals and promote their own causes across the modern period.


The Biafran War  

Ogechukwu E. Williams

From the onset of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, the nation was an uneasy union of numerous ethnicities whose ethnic rather than national allegiance had become entrenched in Nigerian politics under British colonial rule. These ethnic divisions came to the fore following a military coup on January 15, 1966, that became increasingly interpreted in the Muslim Hausa-dominated northern region as an Igbo coup against northerners. The coup worsened anti-Igbo sentiments in the north and resulted in repeated massacres of Igbos in the region. The widespread killing in the north continued unchecked by a new northern-led federal government that had come into power during a countercoup on July 29, 1966. When the government reneged on agreements it had made in Ghana regarding a confederal system of governance that guaranteed regional autonomy, eastern Nigeria seceded to form Biafra on May 30, 1967. Two months later, Nigeria declared war on Biafra, resulting in a conflict that lasted for thirty months. Although the war was initially regarded as merely another conflict in the Third World, Biafra propaganda, promoted by a Swiss media establishment, Markpress, ensured that the war and its image of starving children became common knowledge across the world. Markpress’s successful media campaigns resulted in the mobilization of many international organizations in a massive humanitarian effort to save Biafra and Biafran children. The war remained in a stalemate between 1968 and 1969 until the federal government made one final push in June 1969 that reduced Biafran territory to about one hundred miles by the end of that year. The war ended shortly after on January 12, 1970, following Biafra’s surrender to Nigeria. Shortly after, Nigeria implemented a “no victor–no vanquished” policy to prevent summary punishment of participants in the war. The government’s postwar policy has been criticized for excluding Igbos from key political and economic roles and potentially stoking reemerging demands in the east for Biafra.