SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

2017 Legacies of Biafra Conference

2017 Legacies of Biafra

Date: 21 April 2017Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 22 April 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: BGLT, Brunei Suite

Type of Event: Conference

The ‘Legacies of Biafra’ conference seeks to explore the on-going impact of the war locally and globally, considering how the first civil war in independent Africa has influenced the perception of the continent internationally as well as its impact on the political and social structures within Nigeria. As 2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of war, this conference will provide a timely reflection on the war as a watershed moment in contemporary African history.

The Nigeria-Biafra war was the first civil war in post-independence Africa, and sparked strong reactions from around the world. British participation in the war was informed by the desire to maintain the colonial entity that they had created, as Biafra’s declaration of independence presented a challenge to the legitimacy of African nations created during the colonial era. Global media coverage presented the first images of children starving in Africa, which became the dominant visual representation of the continent in the international press.

One of the lasting impacts of the war is apparent in the images of Africa presented in our contemporary media. The conference seeks to explore the consequences of the war in relation to Nigeria’s social and political structures, Western intervention in conflict zones and developments in humanitarian assistance (i.e. the birth of Médecins Sans Frontières came as a result of relief work in Biafra).

Reflecting on the war at this point in history provides us with a vantage point that can engage intergenerational perspectives on the war’s legacies. The conference will consider the impact of the Nigeria-Biafra war at the regional, national, continental and global levels. The conference organisers believe that the impact the war has not been fully realised, and so the ‘Legacies of Biafra’ conference will provide the opportunity to consider the historical significance of the Nigeria-Biafra war.

The conference will be attended by approximately 300 people, including survivors of the war, people in the community, local stakeholders from across Nigeria and West Africa and international experts and academics. The conference will facilitate discussions around the conditions that led to the outbreak of war, whilst also creating a space to reflect and consider lessons that can be learnt from this period in recent history.

Selected panels at the ‘Legacies of Biafra’ Conference: 

Christopher Okigbo: This panel will explore the life and works of the poet and soldier Christopher Okigbo, who was the most well-known casualty of the war. The Panellists will consider what Christopher Okigbo has come to signify vis-à-vis the war’s impact on his generation and the immense loss of life and talent the war brought about.

Women and Biafra: This panel will discuss the important contributions of women during the war and during the post-war recovery period. It will also consider the impact the war had on the position of women in society in post-Biafra Nigeria.

Key figures in the War: This panel will reflect on the key actors operating during the war, critically engaging with the decisions taken by those on both sides of the conflict.    

Trauma, Memory and Re-Membering: This panel will reflect on the individual and collective memory of the war, and consider how the act of remembering is also an act of putting back together which in turn is an important part in the healing process. It will consider the impact of trauma suffered during the war on individuals and on communities and the ongoing impact on generations that came after the war.

Biafra and the World: This panel will consider the global consequences of the Nigeria-Biafra war, locating this war within global history. It will consider coverage of the war around the world in relation to the other global events happening during the period of 1967-1970 (such as the Vietnam War), as this influenced international responses to Biafra.

Biafra and Cultural Production: This panel will consider the on-going impact the war has had on the arts, which has been expressed through artwork, moving pictures, theatre, songs and the emergence of a body of literature about the Nigeria-Biafra war.

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