Is Benin under Biafra

Colonial Continuities Biafraland and a doppelganger from the past that never existed

In many African countries, the upheavals and susceptibility to crises can often be traced back to the colonial legacy. In his critical analysis of the situation in Nigeria, Richard Ali names further causes and offers possible solutions.

From Richard Ali

"Of course, of course, but I claim that an African's authentic identity is solely due to his tribe," said (Odenigbo). “I'm Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the whites have constructed the black as the greatest possible antithesis to their white. But I was an Igbo before the white man came. "

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in "Half the Sun"

Nigeria - the colonial project of Great Britain and with more than 200 million people the most populous country in Africa. The country, whose sheer energy has given us the nightmare of a city with Lagos and a gigantic dream factory with Nollywood, is going through a crisis that began with the encounter with Europe a century ago. The influence of Europe can still be found today in the geographical and anthropological categories that were developed or promoted during this period, such as the tribal system or the concept of borders. These categories led to separatist movements spreading across the continent that defended themselves against the official states. At its head are men who pretend to be leaders of the revolution, even though they embody something completely different. In this context, Biafraland is one of the latest developments in my home country.

A hijacked vision

Biafraland goes back to the appropriation of the former movement for the realization of a sovereign state Biafra (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB) in 2012 by the operator of its London pirate channel, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu (MNK). MNK calls its splinter group the Independent People of Biafra(IPOB) and continues the cult around his person with the help of a symbolism with a Jewish touch and the image of an enfant terrible of jingoism. While the MASSOB strived for the self-determination of an administrative unit created by the British, the IPOB wanted the rule of a solidarity tribal community, which did not exist before the arrival of the Europeans.
  • © AP Photo / Sunday Alamba, File
    Archive Photo February 29, 2012: Igbo men on motorcycles with Biafra flag on a street in Nnewi, Nigeria. Nigeria's military killed at least 150 peaceful demonstrators in a "deterrent campaign" to suppress renewed calls to create a breakaway state of Biafra in the southeast, Amnesty International said on November 24, 2016
  • © Lekan Oyekanmi / picture alliance / AP Photo
    In this archive photo dated May 28, 2017, Uboha Damia, a 75-year-old Biafra veteran, holds a Biafra flag while members of the Biafri separatist movement gather at an event in Umuahia, Nigeria.
  • © Lekan Oyekanmi / picture alliance / AP Photo
    In this photo taken on May 28, 2017, members of a Biafra separatist movement sing and clap as they gather during an event in Umuahia, Nigeria. Members commemorate their fallen heroes 50 years after the Nigerian civil war in which more than a million people died trying to create a state for the Igbo people.
  • © Ian Langsdon / picture alliance / dpa
    Nigerians from the Igbo tribe in traditional clothing gather on December 9, 2013 in front of the house of the recently deceased South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, to pay their respects to the anti-apartheid icon.
  • © Sunday Alamba / picture alliance / AP Photo
    Igbo tribal chiefs, Nigeria, photo taken on May 23, 2013
Before Nigeria was given its current name, it was an area that connected the coast with the inland in a corner of the African continent and merged into the golden savannah in the fertile rainforest. The country owes its winding coastline to three geographical features: the bays of Benin and Biafra and the river delta of the Niger. Upstream of the Niger in the direction of Lokoja, southern Nigeria divides into two almost equal halves. In Lokoja the mighty Benue flows into the Niger before it continues its way through West Africa to the headwaters in Fouta Djallon. At their confluence, the Niger and Benue form a natural barrier to northern Nigeria, which actually only extends north of the Niger-Benue bank. The former administrative unit known as Northern Nigeria, which included the Niger-Benue Basin, was twice the size of the south and housed two-thirds of the country's population. This fact led to the country's first military coup in January 1966, led largely by young Igbo officers who pretended to rearrange the political map by assassinating the north and west Nigerian elite. This was followed by a civil war that killed an estimated three million people.

Kleptocracy as a system

After the end of the war in 1970, the strategy was “no winner, no defeated”. As a result, a multiethnic elite was formed that jointly managed the country's petrodollar income into its own pocket and at the same time set up a system of patronage. This elite included all ethnic groups in the country from the private sector, the military and the civil service. The deterioration in the quality of life and public services, the widespread corruption among civil servants, and the growing gap between rich and poor that we are witnessing today all took their course during this period.

The fact that Nigeria cannot reach its full potential can be directly traced back to the exploitation of the state by an elite that can only perceive itself to be of magnitude from the time of colonial confrontation, as competition and limitation at the expense of cooperation and inclusion in the Were in the foreground. In order to capture the common prosperity, they saw themselves forced to introduce ever closer identities and ever lower standards of performance. By setting new priorities, fellow citizens were marginalized and marginalization protests justified, whereby this elite was able to legitimize itself in ever smaller sub-national units. This is where MNK comes into play with its Biafraland.

“From this perspective, Biafraland and comparable separatist movements, regardless of whether they are religiously or culturally motivated, are basically about colonial continuities and not about the upheavals that they are supposed to have as their goal. "

The Ghanaian-American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah went to the BBC lecture series in his contribution "Mistaken Identities" Reith Lecturesin 2016 on the deeply fraudulent behavior of these business people. The certainties on which separatists base their demands for solidarity are fictitious. The Biafraland of the MNK is based on the fictitious idea that in the past there was a mixed socio-political construct of an Igbo identity, whereas the reality was that the cultural rapprochement between different peoples took place via a language that originated roughly in time the desiccation of the Sahara in 3500 BC Had. And Biafraland does not do any better if it is defined as the geographical unit of the former Eastern Nigeria, because there is actually a multi-ethnic community of different groups alongside, but independent of, the Igbo. In order to correct this flaw of multiethnicity, MNK proposes a solution with the concept of an “ancestral land of the Igbo” that encompasses the geographical area it desires. MNK's Biafraland is nothing more than a small country where its Igbo people form the ethnic majority and where forced assimilation or genocide are considered a legitimate way to smooth the rough edges. But the concept of forced assimilation originates primarily from the time of colonial rule and has definitely only been known in Africa for about a century. Genocide as a serious socio-cultural strategy also dates from this period and goes back to European nationalism and the industrialization of war. How can the route of the future have its origin in a past if there was no conception of such monstrous things in that past?

Seen from this perspective, Biafraland and comparable separatist movements, regardless of whether they are religiously or culturally motivated, are basically about colonial continuities and not about the upheavals that they are supposed to aim at. Their advocates are not really revolutionaries, but doubles from the past that never existed.

"If we want a revolution, we have to equip ourselves with the weapons of modern technologies and the right self-image - as Africans - that is rooted in the past."

Africa's past as an island, which was only bordered by oceans, can be seen in the example of Kwararafaexplain. The Kwararafa were originally a Nilotic people who settled in the Niger-Genue area as part of a wave of migration and there until 1600 BC. BC could establish a powerful trade alliance. Whatever part of the Nile Valley these my ancestors came from, they had lost their languages ​​and cultures and could no longer be distinguished from other Nigerian ethnic groups - for example the Igala, the Jukun, the Goemai - because they were organically different in one for both sides had adapted to beneficial give and take. Proto-Bantu speakers also left this imaginary African island in 1000 BC. Their Cameroonian heartland to the south in several migration movements. From them emerged the various ethnic groups that today speak Lingala, Shona, Kinyarwanda, Kikuyu, Swahili and hundreds of other languages.

Solution approaches on the continent

If we want a revolution, we have to equip ourselves with the weapons of modern technologies and the right self-image - as Africans - that is rooted in the past. But the point cannot be to choose the convenient version of history, which was only sixty years ago, when our entire history spans a period of seven thousand years.

If our ancestors had no idea of ​​geographic or anthropological boundaries, why should we insist on them today? Revolutionary thinking can possibly already consist in recognizing that our ancestors did not think within limits and that we should not do this either. That all people in Africa are Africans and that we should strive for a continent where different peoples with common ancestors and common ancestry live together in harmony on the largest island in the world. And not after a breakdown into small, insignificant power structures based on the affirmation of firmly lashed colonial concepts of language, geography and identity. As would be the case in MNK's Biafraland.