The Igbo genocide was primarily about the protection of strategic British interests in Nigeria. The departing colonialists had secured the collaboration of the northern region, which was vehemently opposed to African independence. Thus Fulani-Hausa elites played a key role in the perpetration of the genocide.
[The first part of this article appeared last week at this link: http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category.php/features/95145 .]
THE US: EUROPEAN-OCCUPIED AFRICA, ‘GRAND AREA’ PLANNERS, GENOCIDE
In the early 1940s, as the war raged, two important institutions of the United States government, the Council on Foreign Relations and the War-Peace Study Group, embarked on an extensive study to examine the nature and possibilities of exponentially enhancing US interests in the emergent, post-war global political economy. The bodies conceived of ‘Grand Area’ planning (Noam Chomsky, ‘The United States: From Greece to El Salvador’, in Chomsky, et al, ‘Superpowers in Collision’, 1982: 20-42) within which parts of the world deemed ‘strategically necessary for [US’s] world control’ – i.e., ‘open to investment, the repatriation of profits, access to resources and so on – and dominated by the United States’ (Chomsky: 21) were mapped out. Crucially, it should be noted, this ‘Grand Area’ envisaged by the Americans included the entire Southern World in its geographical spread (Chomsky: 21) – in effect, incorporating all countries and peoples that made up the European ‘empires’. Furthermore, the public rhetoric under which US state officials and publicists pursued the implementation of the ‘new order’ was the ‘right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live’ (quoted in AN Porter and AA Stockwell, ‘British Imperial Policy and Decolonisation, 1938-1964’, Vol I: 1938-51, 1987: 103), a formulation contained in the ‘Atlantic Charter’ and which had caused too much dissension in Britain soon after the August 1941 Franklin Roosevelt-Winston Churchill summit because it expressed without any ambiguity: ‘all people had a right to self-determination’.
Churchill was distinctly outraged by the historic implications of the ‘Atlantic Charter’ for British fortunes across the world. In a speech in London in November 1942, Churchill was adamant: ‘I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire’ (‘From our archive: Mr Churchill on our one aim’, The Guardian, London, 11 November 2009). In similar vein, Charles de Gaulle, even though leader of the ‘Free French Forces’ who had been on exile in England since Germany overran France in 1940, rejected African ‘self-determination’ or restoration-of-independence in the post-war era during a 1944 conference of global French occupation-governors in Brazzaville, Congo. De Gaulle was emphatic: ‘[African] Self-government must be rejected – even in the more distant future’ (Hubert Deschambs, ‘France in Black Africa and Madagascar between 1920 and 1945’, 1970: 249).
As it indeed turned out, Britain and France and the other European conqueror-states of Africa needn’t get too perturbed about the effect of the US ‘Grand Area’ planning on their occupied African countries. By 1950, thanks largely to the rapidly developing sociopolitical revolutionary upheavals in Asia (China, Indo-China, Korea, India) and Europe (the evolving Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies), the US had begun to rethink and readjust the critical features and parameters of the operationalisation of the ‘Grand Area’ concept. Whilst the US was no doubt the most powerful country that had emerged in the West World at the end of the war, it was soon clear that Washington required the cooperation of these European extant conqueror-states in Africa and elsewhere (Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean especially) to effectively run the ‘new world order’ which was becoming more ‘complicated’ in its evolution. After all Britain, France and the rest represented the prime ‘survivors’ of the leadership of the ‘old imperialist world order’ whose ‘experience’ of ‘global management’ in the past was still likely to be of immense benefit to the United States. Furthermore, Britain, France and the rest had acknowledged, unquestionably, the US’s political, military and economic supremacy during the recently concluded war against Germany and its allies.
The latter consideration may have contributed enormously to the US modification of the original conception of the ‘Grand Area’ in the way that this affected the overall character of the ‘core-states’ that made up the leadership of the ‘new order’. Instead of embarking on the task singularly, Washington now decided to ‘broaden’ the leadership by assigning important roles to Britain and France, for instance, to play in international relations especially in several supranational organisations which had been formed after the war such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the International Court of Justice, not to mention the more exclusive military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It should also be pointed out that, in constructing a pan-hegemonic concert of states where its supreme leader was accorded full ‘recognition’ by all the ‘core states’, the United States of America succeeded in instilling a vital measure of ‘stability’ among the West’s conqueror or imperialist states for the first time since the European World conquest of the world began in the 15th century. It was the absence of this ‘stability’, exacerbated by the ‘non-recognition’ of a clear-cut leader that fuelled the acute intra-imperialist rivalries of the past which ended with two major wars erupting between 1914 and 1939.
Besides the outbreak of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet-led East bloc which would become as frosty as ever in the years ahead, the most important political development of the immediate post-World War II era was of course the struggle for the restoration-of-independence in the South as we highlighted above. The radical nationalism of the movement in Asia (anti-French resistance in Indo-China, Chinese Revolution) had opened up a range of possibilities for the realisation of a genuine restoration of independence from European World-control. They emphatically advocated the total control of their societies’ resources (human and non-human), the democratisation of the institutions of decision-making and the transformation of the peoples’ living standards. But these were precisely the sort of goals of the South restoration-of-independence movement which ran contrary to the critical tenets of the United States’s ‘Grand Area’ conceptualisation of the ‘new world order’.
Britain and France, among others of the conqueror powers in the South, could not have agreed more with the Americans. Quite clearly, the United States and the principal states of the European pre-World War II ‘world order’ found much sooner than they would have hoped for after the war that they had no fundamental disagreement over the ‘containment’ nor indeed the blocking of genuine restoration-of-independence initiatives in the South World. On the contrary, it was in their mutual interest as evident in the cooperation and/or solidarity that these powers shared in confronting radical national liberation movements in the South in the subsequent 40 years: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tamil Eelam, Kenya, Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Eritrea, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua, Igboland/Biafra, etc., etc. For the United States, therefore, the restoration of independence in the European-occupied South World after the end of the war in 1945 was at best a version of the Latin American experience where an entire continent had, in spite of 150-200 years of independence, been ‘converted’ into an American strategic and economic fiefdom, or what some officials in the US government or elsewhere would prefer, more contemptuously, to describe as their ‘backyard’.
Watching anxiously in the early 1950s as the demand for the African restoration-of-independence got intensified, Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain did not fail to learn from this US example. And the US would oblige accordingly: the US would subsequently support the French in its wars in Indo-China, Algeria and elsewhere in Africa and the South World, as well as never ever condemning France for invading most of the countries of the so-called francophonie Africa 52 times between 1960 and 2015, in addition to the complicity of the French military, based in Rwanda, in the 1996 Rwanda genocide; the US would support the Belgian military in its involvement in the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected popular prime minister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the imposition of the notorious dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko on the Congo for well over 30 years beginning in 1965; the US would support Portugal in its wars in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique against the African restoration-of-independence movements during the timeframe of 1950s-1970s; the US would support the European-minority regimes in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa battling against African restoration-of-independence movements during 1960s-1990s; the US would support Britain in its war against the Gĩkũyũ-led Mau Mau restoration-of-independence movement in Kenya, 1950s-1960s; the US would tacitly support Britain, in league with its Hausa-Fulani north region clients in Nigeria, in perpetrating the Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa, 29 May 1966-12 January 1970, during which 3.1 million or Igbo or one-quarter of this nation’s population were murdered.
THE US, IGBO GENOCIDE, CONTEMPORARY AFRICA
That August 1966 US support for Britain’s plans to expand the territorial reach of the Igbo genocide to Igboland, itself, was an invaluable endorsement for the British – coming from their closest ally since the end of World War II. Britain now had such a formidable diplomatic and political backing to wage a murder campaign to ‘punish’ the Igbo which it had sought to engage in the previous 20 years but didn’t for reasons we have already reviewed here. One obvious consequence of the US endorsement was the viciousness if not savagery of the campaign. Key spokespersons of the genocidist regime in Lagos publicly stated the genocidal goals of the campaign with scarce inhibition throughout its entire stretch and subsequently. British officials, including Harold Wilson, the prime minister himself, were no more reticent in expressing what their mission goal was. Undoubtedly, the Nigeria genocide state became some haematophagous monster let loose on the Igbo and Igboland, slaughtering away to the hilt … And just in case anyone doubts the endgame of this mission, three shrilling, chilling proclamations, scripted with unmistakeable Stheno-precepts of obliterating intent from one of the Gorgons stalking the land, punctuate the scene as the following shows:
1. The ghoulish anthem of the genocide, broadcast uninterruptedly on state-owned Kaduna radio (shortwave transmission) and television and with editorial comments on the theme, regularly published in both state-owned New Nigerian (daily) newspaper and (Hausa) weekly Gaskiya Ta fi Kwabo during the period, has these lyrics in Hausa:
Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(English translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property)
2. Benjamin Adekunle, one of the most despicable of the genocidist commanders in south Igboland, makes the following statement to the media, including foreign representatives, in an August 1968 press conference: ‘I want to prevent even one I[g]bo having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of I[g]bo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that don’t move’ (The Economist [London], 24 August 1968).
3a. Harold Wilson, prime minister of Britain, the key ‘centre’-world power that crucially supports the Igbo genocide militarily, diplomatically and politically right from conceptualisation to actualisation, informs Clyde Ferguson (United States state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra) that he, Harold Wilson, ‘would accept half a million dead Biafrans if that was what it took’ the Nigeria genocidists to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Morris, 1977: 122). Wilson’s statement couldn’t haven more audaciously expressed, particularly coming from the prime minister of Britain to an official of his closest ally, the United States. This is indeed extraordinary… For the record, Wilson’s ‘a half a million dead Biafrans’ represented 4.2 per cent of the Igbo population then; by the time that that phase of the genocide came to an end, 6-9 months after Wilson’s wish-declaration, 25 per cent of this nation’s population or 3.1 million Igbo people had been murdered by the genocidists. Harold Wilson’s ‘would accept a half a million dead Biafrans’-wish is not a declaration made by some dictator, some leader of a loony party, a fascist party or anything of that ilk; on the contrary, this is a declaration made by an elected politician, a politician in an advanced West democracy – the leader of the British Labour party, a party that prides itself for having attracted leading thinkers to its ranks in the post-World War II era. ‘[W]ould accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took’-wish is made by the prime minister of Britain; not the prime minister of some ‘peripheral’, inconsequential country but the prime minister of a ‘centre’ state and power that was part of the victorious alliance that defeated a fascist global amalgam in a global war that ended barely 23 years earlier. This is a prime minister of a ‘centre’ state and power, the sixth to occupy this exalted position since the end of the war, that was one of the key countries that worked on the panel that drafted the historic 1948 United Nations ‘Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide’, in the wake of the 1930s-1940s deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide in Europe. 6 million Jews were murdered then by Nazi Germany. It is to ensure that no human beings are ever subjected to what the Jews went through in central Europe and elsewhere that this genocide convention is rated as one of the key international documents of the new age. Britain is a signatory to the convention. Surely, Harold Wilson’s ‘would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took’-wish cannot fit into the hallowed pages of the 1948 United Nations ‘Convention on the prevention of the Crime of Genocide’. Absolutely not! On the contrary, Wilson’s is a mid-1960s declaration to wage a genocide on a people, the Igbo people, 3150 miles away in southwestcentral Africa, just 20 years after the Jewish genocide in Europe. In the end, rather than Wilson’s 500,000 ‘dead Biafrans’-wish, there were 3.1 million murdered Biafrans... The world must now know: How many others in Wilson’s cabinet identified with this genocidal position and policy on the Igbo? What was the nature of the debates on this subject? Were there voices of opposition within cabinet? Who were these voices and how did they try to alter both position and policy? An official in the foreign office in London at the time does acknowledge, without ambiguity, the genocidal plank of this administration’s policy especially on the issue of the dispatch of urgent relief to the encircled, blockaded and bombarded Igbo: ‘[my government’s position was designed to] show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out’ (Morris, 1977: 122; see also Michael Leapman, ‘While the Biafrans starved, the FO moaned about hacks’, The Independent on Sunday, London, 3 January 1999). How widespread did people in the broader Labour party know of Harold Wilson’s genocidal policy on the Igbo? How much of Wilson’s Igbo genocide drive did the official British Conservative party opposition aware of?
3b. In May 1969, Olusegun Obasanjo, who had recently taken over the command of the Benjamin Adekunle-death squad, orders his air force to shoot down any Red Cross planes flying in urgently-needed relief supplies to the millions of surviving but encircled, blockaded and bombarded Igbo. Within a week of his infamous order, 5 June 1969, Obasanjo recalls, nostalgically, in his memoirs, aptly titled My Command (1981), genocidist air force pilot Gbadomosi King ‘redeem[s] his promise’, as Obasanjo puts it (Obasanjo, 1981: 79). Gbadomosi King shoots down a clearly marked, incoming relief-bearing International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) DC-7 aircraft near Eket, south Biafra, with the loss of its 3-person crew. Obasanjo’s perverse satisfaction over the aftermath of this crime is fiendish, grotesquely revolting. He writes: ‘The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air Force especially on 3 Marine Commando Division [name of the death squad Obasanjo, who subsequently becomes head of Nigeria regime for 11 years, commands] was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned and the troops they supported in [my] 3 Marine Commando Division’ (Obasanjo: 79). The consequence of this act of terror across the world is, of course, the expression of revulsion. What does Obasanjo do in response? This is hugely revelatory. Olusegun Obasanjo appeals to Harold Wilson, the British prime minister, as Obasanjo, himself, scripts in his My Command (165), to ‘sort out’ the raging international outcry generated by the destruction of the ICRC aircraft.
For the Nigerian génocidaires, the fact that, at the end, they have Britain’s back is critical in the pursuit of their gruesome campaign. As for Britain, the unrelentingly brazen impunity equally displayed by its officials, including Prime Minister Wilson, is anchored on the confidence that they have the United States’s government back. It is worth noting that the texture of the vituperative declarations made by either side of the genocidist coalition is pointedly a variation on the central theme of this campaign: to murder Igbo people.
WHAT ‘NEUTRALITY’? WHAT ‘INTERNAL AFFAIR’? WHOSE ‘INTERNAL AFFAIR’?
There was an extensive coverage of the Igbo genocide in the international media throughout its duration. In several now declassified US government official papers at the time, expansive references are made to this coverage as well as to reports of variegated initiatives by private, non-governmental and civil society who were monitoring the ever deteriorating features of the genocide especially after members’ visits to Biafra or following files dispatched by their representatives on the ground in Igboland. So, an examination of the range of United States government’s declassified documents on the genocide, often filed under the captions of ‘Biafra War’, ‘Biafra-Nigeria War’ ‘Biafra/Nigeria War’ or ‘Nigerian Civil War’, underscores the emphasis the US places on the troika concepts of ‘neutrality’, ‘Nigeria affair’ and ‘British responsibility’ which it states characterise its official position on this catastrophe. It often overplays the feature of ‘British responsibility’ but this is barely addressed critically. Britain is portrayed as some lame-duck observer and not an activist participant in the genocide. Indeed in a National Security Council Intergovernmental Group ‘Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra’ for 19 February 1969, the first sentence on British role, three years into the slaughtering, is astonishingly described as follows: ‘The British back the FMG [Nigeria] with non-sophisticated arms sales’ (NSC Interdepartmental Group, ‘Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra’: 5). How the dreadful array of weapons supplied by Britain to Nigerian genocidists, acknowledged clearly by British state papers at the time (as shown earlier on in this study), could be classified by anyone as ‘non-sophisticated’ is extraordinary.
Having given its British ally the carte blanche to expand the territorial range of the genocide in August 1966, the US, not Britain, ironically, is intent on falsifying the very records of the British action on the ground during the 44 months campaign. Contradictorily, perhaps, the papers consistently refer to the ever-increasing death toll in Biafra – especially death by starvation, a policy openly advocated by genocidist regime spokespersons and by Prime Minister Wilson in that 1969 conversation with Clyde Ferguson, the United States state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra, that he, Harold Wilson, ‘would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took’ Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy, 1977: 122). (We should point out that author Roger Morris was at the time a staffer at the National Security Council in Washington.) A state department file states that ‘between 500,000 and 2 million’ had died within 30 months, ‘most … died from starvation and disease brought on by the [Nigerian] encirclement’ of Igboland (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi). References are made to the widespread responses from the American public on the pictures of the ongoing tragedy on their television screens. On 25 July 1968, citizen Betty Carter from Washington, DC, writes Secretary of State Dean Rusk the following letter:
Yesterday evening while eating dinner and watching the news I was unable to finish eating upon seeing the faces of starving children, babies, men, and women in Biafra. I felt nauseated because of having so much when these people were in obvious pain and in dire need of food. I cannot bear to see anyone in need when I have something to share. Though it is not possible for me to go to Biafra at this time, I felt the least I could do was write to you and express my concern for these people and ask that the U.S. and other concerned governments and the United Nations press for a cease fire. I am sending a check to the World Church Service today to help the starving Biafrans. (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi)
Also on 25 July 1968:
U.S. Army Specialist John G. Moss wrote from Vietnam, enclosing a check for $10 ‘to help these desperate people’. Petitions, resolutions, and appeals with dozens (and often hundreds) of signatures came from groups such as the Oregon State Legislature, the Ithaca, New York, Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Washington and Northern Idaho Council of Churches, the Catholic War Veterans of Ohio, the editorial staff of Doubleday publishers in New York, and residents of Ottawa, Kansas, Dayton, Ohio, and Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire, and White River Junction, Vermont. (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi)
Pressure was now beginning to mount on the outgoing President Johnson administration, especially by mid-1968, to respond to this catastrophe boldly rather than the very unconvincing declarations of ‘neutrality’, ‘Nigerian internal affair’ and ‘British responsibility’. Johnson was struck by the outpouring of American public revulsion to the events in Biafra but felt unwilling to engage with an additional ‘crisis’ at a time he was deeply mired in the war in Vietnam. Personally ‘troubled’ by the television pictures on the genocide but without much empathy, Johnson reportedly asked the state department to ‘get those n***** babies off my TV set’ (Terrence Lyons, ‘Keeping Africa off the Agenda’, in Warren Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy, 1963-1968, 1994: 275). The administration nonetheless indicated that it was stepping up ‘humanitarian relief for the Biafran people’ (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi) even whilst acknowledging practical difficulties on the ground in distributing relief supplies that would need approval of both Nigeria and the Biafran resistance government (NSC Interdepartmental Group, ‘Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra’, 10 February 1969: 7).
It should be pointed out, though, that the US reference to ‘[Nigerian] encirclement’ of Igboland (US Department of State, Confidential State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: vi) was part of the calculated genocidal policy by Nigeria that had been implemented beginning on 31 March 1967, while still on phase-II of the slaughtering (a 28 January 1969 Memorandum for the President by Henry Kissinger, presidential advisor on national security, had noted that ‘30-40,000 I[g]bo [had been] savagely slaughtered at this time’ [US Department of State Archives, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vol E-5, Documents on Africa, Memorandum: Henry Kissinger to the President, 28 January 1969]) four months before the 6 July 1967 genocidists invaded Biafra, launching phase-III of the genocide.
On that day, 31 March 1967, the genocidist high command had indeed imposed a land, aerial and sea blockade of Igboland, Africa’s highest population density landmass outside the Nile Delta, as prelude to the invasion of Biafra. To ensure that the 12 million Igbo people were in fact bottled-up in their homeland, the genocidists excised Biafra’s southeast peninsular of Bakassi, contiguous to Cameroon, and ‘awarded’ this territory to the regime in Yaoundé, headed by Ahmadou Ahidjo. The conditions on the ground were now in place for chief genocidist ‘theorist’ Obafemi Awolowo, a lawyer, a ‘senior advocate’ of the Nigeria bar, also vice-chair of the genocide-prosecuting junta (prime minister) and head of the finance ministry, to formulate his ‘starvation’-weapon strategy on Igbo people. This began to have its devastating direct effect and concomitant impact as from mid-1968, precisely the timeframe the US state department files being reviewed attest to. Unlike the experience of tens of thousands of Yoruba people who thronged across the west Nigeria-(Dahomey)/Benin Republic frontiers, seeking refuge in (Dahomey)/Benin and elsewhere in west Africa during the intra-Yoruba conflicts of 1963-1965, Awolowo ‘reckoned’ or ‘calculated’ that the Igbo must be denied similar access to a destination of refuge (outside their homeland) through the only other contiguous land border they have besides Nigeria, namely Cameroon. This restricted space for Igbo domicility to negotiate, in the wake of the planned, soon to be launched invasion of Igboland (phase-III) would guarantee the optimum range or outcome of the Igbo slaughter so envisaged in the Awolowoist genocidist projection…
Here lies the apparent difficulties the US government and non-governmental relief agencies and those of the International Committee of the Red Cross and other interested relief organisations across the world encountered, repeatedly, to send humanitarian relief to Biafra during the 44 months campaign. To starve out the Igbo was an intrinsic feature in the Nigerian genocidal plan and Nigeria couldn’t, therefore, be cooperating with anyone who wanted to send relief to the Igbo whilst this policy was fully operational. Pointedly, this was part of the devastating import of British Prime Minister Wilson’s position in his conversation with US Biafra relief coordinator Ferguson (already referred to) and that other vulgar summation on the theme rendered by the official in the British foreign office, already referenced here in the study: ‘[my government’s position was designed to] show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out’ (Morris: 122). Surely, the United States was fully aware of this Anglo-Nigerian strategy.
The US, in state paper after state paper, emphasises that all it could do in response to the slaughter was provide ‘humanitarian assistance’ to the Biafrans (US Department of State Archives, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vol 32, African Relations, Outgoing Telegram 016759, US Embassy Lagos, 3 February 1969) but that was increasingly a failure (US Department of State Archives, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vol 32, African Relations, Telegram 333: US Ambassador in Lagos to US Secretary of State; US Department of State Archives, Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vol 32, African Relations, Talking Paper for [presidential] European Trip, TP10, February-March 1969) because that would have meant challenging, confronting (a la April 1948-May 1949 Berlin relief airlift intervention) a deliberate Anglo-Nigerian strategy which predicated on its declared position of “neutrality”.
Not surprisingly, both Johnson and the subsequent Nixon administration had numerous critics in congress and the rest of the country who wanted a more robust US response. In January 1969, a cross-party resolution involving 59 co-sponsors called on newly-elected President Nixon to ‘increase significantly the amount of surplus food stocks, relief monies, non-combat aircraft, and such other vehicles of transportation as may be necessary for relief purposes’ (NSC Interdepartmental Group, ‘Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra’: 1). Whilst discussing the resolution, a group of Democratic party senators, including Edward Kennedy (Democratic party, Massachusetts), insisted that the resolution had a ‘narrow focus on relief’. Kennedy argued that ‘since the conflict already involves the Great Powers, the US has a moral duty, as a world leader, to bring about a resolution’ (NSC Interdepartmental Group, ‘Background Discussion Paper on Nigeria/Biafra’: 1).
Even though he continues to pursue the dubitable US ‘neutral’ position of his predecessor on the Igbo genocide, Richard Nixon appears to wrestle with the moral imperative at stake, raised by Senator Kennedy, over a ‘world leader’ who stands idly by as millions of people are murdered by a close US ally and the latter’s client state representatives in west Africa, 21 years since the end of the horrors of the Jewish genocide and 18 years after the historic UN Convention on Genocide. Nixon’s 12 April 1971 recorded audio tape conversation with Henry Kissinger, his advisor on national security, is indeed highly revelatory (Gary Bass, ‘Looking away from genocide’, The New Yorker, 19 November 2013). In their conversation, Nixon, who had in 1968, as he campaigned for the presidential election, aptly described the slaughtering in Biafra as ‘genocide’, compares the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh to that of Biafra and the Jews. Nixon then wonders whether it was ‘immoral’ that the US did not support Biafra and alluded to the Biafrans’ African heritage and their catholic faith as, perhaps, factors that accounted for this US inaction (Gary Bass, ‘Looking away from genocide’, The New Yorker, 19 November 2013).
Surely, what these snippets from this Nixon-Kissinger tapes tell the world is that, right in the heart of the US presidency, the second president of the republic who oversees the US policy during the Igbo genocide, 29 May 1966-12 January 1970, does not believe a word of his own nor the previous government’s officially stated position on this catastrophe.
Official United States never condemned the Igbo genocide unambiguously despite the comprehensive information at its disposal right from the outset. To describe the US position as ‘neutral’ was in fact part of the tragedy. One couldn’t be ‘neutral’ in face of evil. Besides, the US was fully aware that Britain, its closest ally, was spearheading this genocide in Africa just 21 years after the end of the Jewish genocide in Europe. To also categorise the conflict as a ‘British responsibility’ (Confidential US State Department Files: Biafra-Nigeria, 1967-1969 – Political Affairs: v and Lyons, 1994: 274), given the US’s full knowledge of British involvement in the ongoing crime, amounts to Washington’s tacit support for the genocide. Finally, for the US to also describe the tragedy as a ‘Nigerian internal affair’ underscores how little the world appears to have learned from the enduring lessons of the Jewish genocide: genocide cannot be an internal affair.
The United States could have stopped the Igbo genocide; the United States should have stopped the Igbo genocide instead of protecting the interests of the Nigeria state, the very perpetrator of the crime, but, more importantly, instead of protecting the socioeconomic and strategic interests of conqueror-state Britain as this study has demonstrated. In the wake of the Jewish genocide of the 1930s-1940s during which 6 million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany, Africa was, with hindsight, most cruelly unlucky to have been the ‘testing ground’ for the presumed global community’s resolve to fight genocide subsequently, particularly after the 1948 historic United Nations declaration on this crime against humanity. Only a few would have failed to note that the US’s position that this crime was ‘internal’ was staggeringly disingenuous as genocide, as was demonstrated devastatingly 20-30 years earlier on in Europe, would of course occur within some territoriality (‘internal’) where the perpetrator exercises a permanent or limited or partial or temporary sociopolitical control (cf. Nazi Germany and its programme to destroy its Jewish population within Germany itself; Nazi Germany and its programme to destroy Jewish populations within those countries in Europe under its occupation from 1939 and 1945). Between 1966 and 2015, the world would witness genocide carried out against the Igbo, the Tutsi/some Hutu, Darfuri and nations/peoples in Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan and in the east Congo River Basin in ‘internal’ spaces that go by the names Nigeria, Rwanda, the Sudan, and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo respectively. The contours of the territory where genocide is executed do not therefore make the perpetrators less culpable nor the crime permissible as the United Nations’s crucial 1948 genocide declaration states most clearly.
The very central role played by Britain in support of the Igbo genocide no doubt reinforced the scandalous failure of the United States to exercise robust global leadership to prevent this catastrophe. Britain, a fully-fledged member of the United Nations – indeed a founding member of the organisation who enjoys a permanent seat on its security council and participated in drafting the anti-genocide declaration – supported the Igbo genocide militarily, politically, diplomatically. Without this entrenched British role, there probably would not have been the Igbo genocide. It is extraordinary that, under its watch as one of the superpowers of the post-World War II epoch, the United States, contrary to its often expressed lofty ideals, could have seemed to tolerate the perpetration of this genocide.
To understand the international politics of the Igbo genocide and the international politics of the “post”-Igbo genocide is to have an invaluable insight into the salient features and constitutive indices of politics across Africa in the past 50 years. The African-based perpetrators of the Igbo genocide, who have subsequently seized and pillaged the rich Igboland economy which could easily have expansively transformed not just these lands of southwestcentral region of Africa but all of Africa with transferable positive impact on other regions of the African World, appear to have got off free from any forms of sanctions from Africa and the world, thanks to a concerted British and by implication US diplomatic and political protection for what are unquestionably crimes against humanity. The consequences for the rest of Africa have been serially catastrophic. Several regimes elsewhere on the continent are ‘convinced’ of the conclusions that they have drawn from the escapades of their Nigerian counterpart: ‘We can murder our peoples at will. There will be no sanctions from Africa – and the world’. As a result, the killing fields of this age of pestilence in Africa have stretched almost inexorably beyond Igboland with the murders of 12 million additional Africans, since January 1970, by regimes in further genocide in Rwanda, Darfur/Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan (the Sudan) and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of Congo, and in other conflicts in Liberia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Mali, Chad, Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi…
*Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Longest genocide – Since 29 May 1966 (forthcoming, 2015).
Bass, Gary. ‘Looking away from genocide’, The New Yorker, 19 November 2013.
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