Biafra (was Re: Unita)

João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at
Wed Dec 29 14:44:33 MST 1999

David Altman wrote:

> Excuse me, but Portuguese involvement in the Biafran war was never a
> "secret."  It was well known at the time, and is discussed in detail in the
> book, "The Nigerian Civil War" by John de St. Jorre, published in 1972,
> among other sources.

Well, it was certainly a secret here in Portugal, a country that, as you
probably know (or may guess), had the media, publishers and bookshops under very
severe surveillance and censorship. That's what I meant.

In fact, I was unaware of it until very recently, for the fact hasn't aroused
much debate since there are public freedoms (1974) either, probably because this
is a forgotten war anyway.

> The French imperialists were also giving (back-handed)
> support to the Biafran cause, as were the Chinese.  The British & American
> imperialists supported the Nigerian Federal government side in the war, as
> did the Soviet Union. Both sides utilized mercenaries of very dubious
> backgrounds.
> Please tell me, do you think that "democratic" imperialist governments
> getting involved in African civil wars is somehow more "progressive" than
> the involvement of "fascist" imperialist governments?

Not at all. In fact, by your account, "democratic" and "undemocratic" support
seem to be distributed fairly evenhandedly to both sides of the conflict.

Lets say I am very unfavorably predisposed towards any side in an african
conflict that my own fascist/colonialist portuguese government has found worthy
of support at that time. These have included Tschombé (of which Salazar has said
- "I liked the man. Look, I have promoted him to white"), Idi Amin, Ian Smith
and, of course, the south-african National Party. As "friends", there was
Hastings Banda (of Malawi), Houphouet Boigny and Tsiranana (of Madagascar). The
portuguese government was constantly involved in all sorts of secret african
plots, diplomatic gambits, risky intelligence missions, armed assaults and
covert executions. You may be assured that not one of these actions was
commendable for any person interested in african independence and dignity.

But I understand (and, by all means, applaud vibrantly) that you may also feel
that way towards sides your own "democratic" imperialist government takes.

I'm certain it won't be because of this we will ever be at loggerheads.

> In brief, here is my position:  The Biafran War was
> provoked when one ethnic group (the Igbo) were the victim of vicious pogroms
> which left over 30,000 people dead.  Feeling they had no future in Nigeria,
> which was an unstable amalgamation set up for the benefit of imerialism and
> not the peoples within it, they sought to separate.  They were totally
> justified in doing so!

I don't want to start a discussion on this. The ibo are one of the major pillars
of the nigerian nation, along with the yoruba and the muslim populations of the
North (haussas and fulani). Nambi Azikiwé, the father of nigerian nationalism,
was a ibo, as were many other past and future presidents of that great country.

Nigeria has had many political problems of late but, for the little I know, I
would dare say systematic oppression of the ibos is not one of them. In fact,
tribalism and regionalism seem to be receding, as urbanization proceeds. As an
unfortunate episode belonging to the birth pains of a great nation (and very
suspiciously coincident with the discovery of the enormous value of its oil
reserves), I say we should just put biafran secessionism to rest.

For what I know, Ken Saro-Wiwa had nothing to do with such a project.

João Paulo Monteiro

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