Nigerian Biafran War (1967-1970)
The Nigerian-Biafran War was a three-year bloody conflict with a price numbering quite a million people. Having commenced seven years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, the war began with the secession of the southeastern region of the state on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra. The following battles and well-publicized human suffering prompted international outrage and intervention.
Carved out of the west of Africa by Britain without regard for preexisting ethnic, cultural and linguistic divisions, Nigeria has often experienced an uncertain peace. Following decades of ethnic tension in colonial Nigeria, political instability reached a critical mass among independent Nigeria’s three dominant ethnic groups: the Hausa-Fulani within the north, Yoruba within the southwest, and Igbo within the southeast.
On January 15, 1966, the Igbo launched a coup d’état under the command of Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi in an effort to save lots of the country from what Igbo leaders feared would be political disintegration.
Shortly after the successful coup, widespread suspicion of Igbo domination was aroused within the north among the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, many of whom opposed independence from Britain. Similar suspicions of the Igbo junta grew within the Yoruba west, prompting a joint Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani countercoup against the Igbo six months later. Countercoup leader General Yakubu Gowon took punitive measures against the Igbo.
Further anger over the murder of prominent Hausa politicians led to the massacre of scattered Igbo populations in northern Hausa-Fulani regions. This persecution triggered the move by Igbo separatists to make their own nation of Biafra the subsequent year.
Less than two months after Biafra declared its independence, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis fell apart. On July 6, 1967, the federal in Lagos launched a full-scale invasion into Biafra. Expecting a fast victory, the Nigerian army surrounded and buffeted Biafra with aerial and artillery bombardment that led to large scale losses among Biafran civilians. The Nigerian Navy also established a sea blockade that denied food, medical supplies and weapons, again impacting Biafran soldiers and civilians alike.
Despite the shortage of resources and international support, Biafra stood firm refusing to surrender within the face of overwhelming Nigerian military superiority. The Nigerian Army however continued to slowly take territory, and on January 15, 1970, Biafra surrendered when its military commander General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu fled to Cote d’Ivoire.
During this war, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people died daily in Biafra from starvation as a results of the blockade. The international reaction to the military conflict helped define how the planet now views and responds to similar crises.
Somali Civil War (1988-1992)
The collapse of the Somali state was the consequence of a mixture of internal and external factors. Externally there have been the legacies of European colonialism that divided the Somali people into five states, the impact of conflict politics in shoring a predatory state, and therefore the cumulative effect of wars with neighbouring states, most damagingly the 1977-78 Ogaden war with Ethiopia. Internally, there have been contradictions between a centralised state authority, and a fractious kinship system and therefore the Somali pastoral culture during which power is diffused. Next came the Somali National Movement (SNM) formed in 1982 that drew its support from the Isaaq clan. The SNM insurgency escalated into a full-scale war in 1988 when it attacked government garrisons in Burco and Hargeisa. The government responded with a ferocious assault on the Isaaq clan, killing some 50,000 people and forcing 650,000 to escape to Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Somalia’s collapse was hastened by the ending of the conflict. As Somalia’s strategic importance to the West declined, the aid that had sustained the state was withdrawn. Without the resources to take care of the system of patronage politics, Barre lost control of the country and therefore the army. In January 1991 he was ousted from Mogadishu by forces of the United Somali Congress (USC) drawing support from the Hawiye clans in south central Somalia.
Somalis use the word burbur (‘catastrophe’) to explain the amount from December 1991 to March 1992, when the country was torn apart by clan-based warfare and factions plundered the remnants of the state and fought for control of rural and concrete assets. Four months of fighting in Mogadishu alone in 1991 and 1992 killed an estimated 25,000 people, 1.5 million people fled the country, and a minimum of 2 million were internally displaced.
In the midst of drought, the destruction of social and economic infrastructure, asset stripping, ‘clan-cleansing’ and therefore the disruption of food supplies caused a famine during which an estimated 250,000 died. Those that suffered most came from the politically marginalised and poorly armed riverine and inter-riverine agro-pastoral communities within the south, who suffered waves of invasions from the better-armed militia from the main clans.
External responses to Somalia’s collapse were belated because other wars within the Gulf and therefore the Balkans commanded international attention. The Djibouti government tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal in June and July 1991. UN diplomatic engagement began only in early 1992, when a ceasefire was negotiated between the 2 main belligerents in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aideed. A limited UN peacekeeping – the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) – was unable to stem the violence or address the famine.
Signs that war was radically restructuring the state came in May 1991 when the SNM declared that the northern regions were seceding from the south to become the independent Republic of Somaliland.