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Mercy Angels: The Joint Church Aid and the Humanitarian Response in Biafra, 1967-1970

Arua Oko Omaka


PhD Thesis, McMaster University, November 2014

International humanitarian organizations played a prominent role in the Nigeria-Biafra War, but scholars have paid little or no attention to the humanitarian crisis in the war and the global humanitarian intervention that followed it. This thesis aims to fill a gap in the historiography of international humanitarian aid in the Nigeria-Biafra War by focusing on the Joint Church Aid (JCA), a consortium of Catholic and Protestant Churches that provided relief aid for the starving civilians in Biafra. This study of the JCA is broken down into three parts: the humanitarian impulse in the Nigeria-Biafra conflict, the formation of the JCA and its relief organization, and the challenges of relief operation in Biafra. The research provides a window into understanding the complex nature of international humanitarian aid in political conflicts. This dissertation argues that the JCA’s humanitarian operation, though relatively successful, had unintended consequences. While the JCA aimed to provide relief for the starving Biafran population, it was interpreted by the Nigerian government as political support for a "rebellion." Convinced that the humanitarian organizations engaged in arms dealings with the Biafran government, the Nigerian government intensified military counter-action against the relief operation. The Nigerian government refused to separate international humanitarian aid from the political objectives of the war hence starvation came to be seen as a legitimate instrument of warfare. On the Biafran side, however, there was an effort to separate international humanitarian aid from the politics and hostilities of the war. Consequently, humanitarianism became a deeply contested issue that brought the humanitarian agencies into direct conflict with the Nigerian government. This study contributes to the scholarship on international humanitarianism and the internationalization of armed conflicts in postcolonial Africa.

Full Text:


Biafran War Database.
Editor: Azuka Nzegwu.

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