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'The Other Side' of the Nigeria-Biafra War: A Transnational History

Anna-Katharina Luepke


PhD Thesis, Bangor University, November 2017

During the civil war between Nigeria and the separatist south-eastern state of Biafra, a famine developed that became a global media event in the summer of 1968. Graphic images of starving children captured the public imagination and became a hallmark of the media coverage of famines and humanitarian crises to come. Biafra committees sprang up all over the world and began to support Biafra's bid for independence and to protest the inactivity of foreign states in the face of what they believed to be a genocide. Expatriate Biafrans and Nigerians in Europe or North America lobbied governments to support their respective side and set up organisations for that very purpose. While the churches and other humanitarian agencies launched fund-raising campaigns to finance the greatest relief effort since the Second World War, most foreign governments hesitated to get involved. The humanitarian effort during the Nigeria-Biafra War became the catalyst of the development of the modern humanitarian industry as well as the breakthrough of the interventionist humanitarianism associated with the borderless movement. A growing number of studies on the global history of the Nigeria-Biafra War have begun to reconstruct the roles of various countries during the war, trace changes in the landscape of humanitarian organisations, and explore the discursive forms of engagement with Biafran suffering. This thesis adds to the existing body of knowledge by studying the transnational dimension of the war and highlighting the intersection of various agents, including the media, governmental institutions, and advocates. The overall argument is that a particular constellation of institutions and converging developments – namely the backdrop of 1960s activism, the media interest in publicising Biafran suffering, and the reluctance of governments to actively intervene to bring about peace – resulted in the rise of the modern humanitarian industry. Simultaneously, the visceral albeit simplifying narrative of human suffering turned the Biafran famine into an almost global cause célèbre and strengthened paternalistic views of the Third World as a space for continued foreign intervention.

Full Text:


Biafran War Database.
Editor: Azuka Nzegwu.

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