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Posts tagged "genocide"

Remembering Biafra 47 years later.

Thirty years ago today, the Republic of Biafra - a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria - was formed by Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern Region’s military governor. Lasting only from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, Biafra was established as a way for predominantly Igbo region to redefine themselves in a postcolonial sense. Nigeria had recently become indepent from Britain but the borders set up by the British did not reflect the cultural and ethnic identities of those contained within it.

Prior to the secession, a military coup, led mostly Igbos, erupted in the country in January of 1966 that claimed the lives of 30 political leaders including Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and the Northern premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President, who was Igbo, and the premier of the southeastern part of the country were not killed. Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo official, was the appointed head of the Nigerian government by the ministers that survived the coup.

Later that year, in July, deepning the country’s ethnic and religious tensions, northern officers and army units staged a counter-coup. Muslim officers named General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon, a Christian who was Anga (small ethnic group in central Nigeria) as the head of the Federal Military Government. The violence continued a few months later when in September 1966 approximately 30,000 Igbo were killed in the north and some Northerners were killed in backlashes in eastern cities. Out of fear, there was a massive Igbo flight of over 1 million people from the north to the eastern part of Nigeria.

The following year, in January 1967, military leaders and senior police officials of each region met in Aburi, Ghana under the protection and mediation of the Ghana’s military government. They agreed on a loose confederation of regions. The Northerners did not take kindly to the Aburi Accord; nor did it sit well with civil servants from the mostly Yoruba western region of the country. Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Western Region warned that if the East seceded, the West would follow, further deterring the northerners from adopting this agreement. 

Awolowo, the leader of the western region demanded the removal of all northern troops in the west, and threatened to leave the federation if the east did so first. The Federal Military Government hastily removed northern troops from the west and issued a decree resurrecting the idea of a confederation discussed at Aburi.” Ojukwu and the other eastern leaders rejected it, by voting in May to secede from Nigeria. The mid-western region, the present location of Nigeria’s capital - Abuja - announced that it would remain neutral in the event of a civil war.

What followed was indeed a civil war - and a brutal one, too. From 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970, Nigeria proper was at war with the tiny and far less equipped state of Biafra. Despite the initial successes of Biafra’s military, it would be the cruelty of the Nigerian government that would lead to their downfall. On 30 June 1969, the Nigerian government banned all Red Cross aid to Biafra but two weeks later it allowed medical supplies through the front line, but restricted food supplies.

Ojukwu appealed to the United Nations to mediate a cease-fire in October of that year, but to no avail. By December, Biafra was cut in half by the Nigerian military under the command of Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, popularly called “The Black Scorpion”, and later by Olusegun Obasanjo. Ojukwu fled to the Ivory Coast leaving his chief of staff Philip Effiong to act as the “officer administering the government”. Effiong called for a cease-fire on January 12th and submitted to the Nigerian government. By the 15th of January, Biafra was absorbed back in to Nigeria proper.

Looking at these devastating and horrific images, it’s hard to imagine that these events were real, that a genocide was committed out of greed resulting in the deaths over a million civilians, many whom were starved to death. And yet, as Nigerians, we either refuse or prefer not to openly talk about this period in our history. Even the federal government are so threatened by talk of Biafra that Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun film has been ‘indefinitely banned from being screened in the country. The suffering caused by the Nigerian government on the citizens of Biafra was so severe that it launched the Doctors Without Borders organization.

Biafra was formally recognised only by Gabon, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia. Other nations which did not give official recognition but provided support and assistance to Biafra included Israel, France, Portugal, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa and Vatican City. Biafra also received aid from non-state actors, including Joint Church Aid, Holy Ghost Fathers of Ireland, Caritas International, MarkPress and U.S. Catholic Relief Services

(sources: 1; 2 & 3)


…a series of environmental portraits made in Rwanda of women that were brutally raped during the Rwandan genocide and the children they bore from those brutal encounters.


Interview with Burkinabe filmmaker Fanta Régina Nacro on her film The Night of Truth that, “confronts the issues of genocide and reconciliation in African countries”, as well as the universality of ‘barbarianism’ which has no regard for skin colour, and the events that led to the making of this film.

For those of you in the United States, you can watch the film here.

Definitely a must-watch.

[French w/ English subtitles]

In 1903, after 20 years of colonization, 712 European women lived among 3,970 European men in German South-West Africa. What to do? Rape. Although rape by German men of Herero and Nama women was common, prior to 1904 not a single case of a white man raping an African woman came before a German court. This became particularly acute in the attempted rape, and then murder, of Louisa Kamana.

Louisa Kamana was married to the son of Chief Zacharias. The two gave a ride to a German settler, who, that night, “made sexual advances” on Louisa Kamana. She refused. He killed her. The Court acquitted him. The case was appealed, and the settler was given three years in prison. Rape and murder of Herero women were common occurrences. The case only went to trial because a Chief’s family was involved, and no one among the Herero thought three years made up for a Herero woman’s life and dignity.

That’s the story of the genocide as well. Women and children were targeted. When the Herero were ‘allowed’ to escape into the Kalahari Desert, it was assumed most would die. It was also assumed more women and children would die. That assumption was correct. The German authorities explained that Herero women and children had to die because they carried dangerous diseases. Meanwhile, the German press shrieked that Herero women were ‘black amazons swinging clubs and castrating their foes’.

And so good riddance.

Excerpt from, German amnesia and Herero women, by Dan Moshenberg at AIAC

This week President Kagame officially closed the Gacaca tribunals.

While Rwandan authorities celebrate the virtue of these community courts intended to bring genocide criminals to justice, unresolved feelings plague the survivors - both those whose loved ones were killed and those whose loved ones were convicted.

Regret weighs heavy on Madeleine Umuhoza. “I still don’t know where my husband’s body was dumped,” says the 45-year old woman from Gatsata. “Our house was attacked at the start of the genocide by a group of young people armed with bows and arrows. We all ran in different directions. I survived by hiding in a swamp, together with other Tutsi escapees. I haven’t seen my husband ever since.”

Among genocide survivors, her story is unfortunately not unique. “I blame myself for not saying goodbye,” she says, on the verge of tears.

When they were introduced in 2001, Gacaca courts nourished a hope that survivors would finally be able to bury their lost relatives with dignity. The community justice system relied on the confessions of genocide culprits in exchange for a substantial reduction of their sentences. The perpetrators were expected to admit to their crimes, name their accomplices and point to where they left their victims. But many chose to remain silent.

That silence has been denounced by Donatilla Mukantaganzwa, former secretary-general of the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions, from the very start of the process. In fact, she believes it was one of the main obstacles tribunals from which the country expected “the truth to come out”.

Left with little

One survivor who managed to find the bodies of her parents and two brothers before the Gacacas system was introduced is Léonilla Nyiransabimana. Although her father owned a house and a car - enough to be counted among the wealthy in Kigali during the genocide - she now lives in poverty.

"The house was ransacked and the doors, windows glasses and roof were all stolen. The car is nowhere to be found," she explains. "Thanks to aid from the government, I managed to rebuild a shelter on the ruins of the house. But I am almost starving to death in there."

This home that Nyiransabimana describes is one she must share with many other genocide survivors. She says: “The people found guilty of destroying my family’s property have nothing to offer but repentance. What will become of me?”

The implementation of restitution or compensation provided in Gacaca law is further complicated by the fact that the perpetrators are themselves poor. What’s worse, the organic law covering the courts, despite numerous amendments, had no provisions for the compensation of physical and emotional damages.

(read more)