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The Future of Africa
Biafra Protests Turn Deadly

Identity politics are flaring up in an big way in Africa’s most populous country. The BBC reports that Nigerian security forces opened fire on protesters backing Biafran secession—a decades-old nationalist cause that has been staging a comeback in recent months:

Five people have been killed in south-eastern Nigeria after police opened fire on supporters of an activist who backs the creation of a breakaway state of Biafra, campaigners say.

An Abuja high court on Thursday ordered the release of Nnamdi Kanu, which prompted celebrations on the streets.

The police in Onitsha city said shots were fired after officers were attacked and three people were “feared dead”.

Mr Kanu was arrested by the authorities in October, accused of treason.

He is the director of the banned Radio Biafra and heads the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group.

Biafran secessionists fought a three-year civil war in which more than one million people lost their lives. The uprising was eventually quelled by the military in 1970.

This escalating conflict poses a serious dilemma for policymakers in Nigeria, and for Africa watchers around the world. On the one hand, if the Igbo people claim and win the right to independence, other ethnic groups across the continent could follow. As we have seen throughout European history—and as we are seeing in the blood-soaked Middle East today—such independence movements can and do give rise to horrific civil wars. On the other hand, nobody in the West would doubt that the Igbo people are entitled to a state under modern Western ideas of self-determination. Moreover, states built around the culture and language of a smaller ethnic group may be more cohesive and peaceful in the long run than cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic federations.

Keep an eye on Biafra. The Igbo independence movement will have real consequences for the future of Africa, and for nations across the developing world.

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  • CapitalHawk

    Tribes are being tribal. This is not a shock.

    • Anthony

      Tribes being tribal misrepresents and this is not asserted to dismiss your categorization but more to underscore integrity of TAI in providing both high level information and general clarity. That is, African ethnic groups are largely a modern phenomena, created either in the colonial period or consolidated in postcolonial times. In fact, a tribe (or tribal) is a classic segmentary lineage; in other words, anthropologically it is a group that traces common ancestry to a progenitor who may be two, three, or more generations distant (held together by beliefs about the power of both dead ancestors and unborn descendants). Thus, I am not sure the conflict brewing in Nigeria can be so easily summed up.

      • Herzog

        African ethnic groups emphatically are NOT largely a “modern phenomena (sic!), created either in the colonial period or consolidated in postcolonial times.” That’s ahistorical over-anthropologizing (plus, the either / or of that quote doesn’t make sense anyway). If you read in the countless precolonial 19th century sources on Africa (travel accounts, indigenous sources, missionary reports etc.) you will find that they all show us many consolidated African peoples. The Haussa, Fulbe, Igbo, Zulu, Oromo, Buganda, Amhara, Somali, Bambara, Dinka, Azande and countless other peoples definitely were there before the colonial period. Okay, in addition there are the small groups which meaningfully can be classed as tribes still today, and whose identities often may have been fluid over the past 150 years. But they are not what shaped the history of Africa in the last precolonial centuries.

        • Anthony

          You’re incorrect Herzog but I’m not going to argue something that can easily be established if you actually wanted accurate information. As a matter of record (and I am not going to extend this), far from being a single tribal identity most Africans moved in and out of multiples identities. Now, that is not to infer that ethnic identities were created out of whole cloth, during colonialism or post colonialism. Finally, nothing written is either ahistorical or historical revision. You apply perhaps a misunderstanding (invention of tradition) of African society. But it will not be solved here!

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