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Authors: Chinua Achebe

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There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

A
LSO BY
C
HINUA
A
CHEBE

The Education of a British-Protected Child

Collected Poems

Anthills of the Savannah

The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories

Things Fall Apart

No Longer at Ease

Chike and the River

A Man of the People

Arrow of God

Girls at War and Other Stories

Beware Soul Brother

Morning Yet on Creation Day

The Trouble with Nigeria

The Flute

The Drum

Home and Exile

Hopes and Impediments

How the Leopard Got His Claws

(with John Iroaganachi)

Winds of Change: Modern Short Stories from Black Africa

(coeditor)

African Short Stories

(editor, with C. L. Innes)

Another Africa

(with Robert Lyons)

T
HERE
W
AS
A
C
OUNTRY

A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA

Chinua Achebe

THE PENGUIN PRESS

New York

2012

THE PENGUIN PRESS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

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First published in 2012 by The Penguin Press,

a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Chinua Achebe, 2012

All rights reserved

“1966,” “Benin Road,” “Penalty of Godhead,” “Generation Gap,” “Biafra, 1969,” “A Mother
in a Refugee Camp,” “The First Shot,” “Air Raid,” “Mango Seedling,” “We Laughed at
Him,” “Vultures,” and “After a War” from
Collected Poems
by Chinua Achebe. Copyright © 1971, 1973, 2004 by Chinua Achebe. Used by permission
of Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

Achebe, Chinua.

There was a country : a personal history of Biafra / Chinua Achebe.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-101-59598-5

1. Achebe, Chinua. 2. Authors, Nigerian—20th century—Biography. 3. Nigeria—History—Civil
War, 1967–1970—Personal narratives. I. Title.

PR9387.9.A3Z46 2012

823'.914—dc23

[B]

2012005603

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy
of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized
editions.

Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit,
we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences,
and the words are the author’s alone.

CONTENTS

Also by Chinua Achebe

Title Page

Copyright

Maps

Introduction

P
ART 1

Pioneers of a New Frontier

The Magical Years

A Primary Exposure

Leaving Home

The Formative Years at Umuahia and Ibadan

THE UMUAHIA EXPERIENCE

THE IBADAN EXPERIENCE

Meeting Christie and Her Family

Discovering
Things Fall Apart

A Lucky Generation

The March to Independence

The Cradle of Nigerian Nationalism

Post-Independence Nigeria

The Decline

The Role of the Writer in Africa

1966
(poem)

January 15, 1966, Coup

The Dark Days

Benin Road
(poem)

A History of Ethnic Tension and Resentment

The Army

Countercoup and Assassination

The Pogroms

Penalty of Godhead
(poem)

The Aburi Accord

Generation Gap
(poem)

The Nightmare Begins

P
ART 2

The Nigeria-Biafra War

THE BIAFRAN POSITION

THE NIGERIAN ARGUMENT

THE ROLE OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AFRICAN UNITY

The Triangle Game: The UK, France, and the United States

The Writers and Intellectuals

The War and the Nigerian Intellectual

The Life and Work of Christopher Okigbo

The Major Nigerian Actors in the Conflict: Ojukwu and Gowon

THE ARISTOCRAT

THE GENTLEMAN GENERAL

The First Shot
(poem)

The Biafran Invasion of the Mid-West

Gowon Regroups

The Asaba Massacre

Biafran Repercussions

Blood, Blood, Everywhere

The Calabar Massacre

Biafra, 1969
(poem)

The Republic of Biafra

THE INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATION OF A NEW NATION

The Biafran State

THE BIAFRAN FLAG

THE BIAFRAN NATIONAL ANTHEM

THE MILITARY

OGBUNIGWE

BIAFRAN TANKS

A TIGER JOINS THE ARMY

FREEDOM FIGHTERS

Traveling on Behalf of Biafra

Refugee Mother and Child (A Mother in a Refugee Camp)
(poem)

Life in Biafra

The Abagana Ambush

Air Raid
(poem)

The Citadel Press

The Ifeajuna Manuscript

Staying Alive

Death of the Poet: “Daddy, Don’t Let Him Die!”

Mango Seedling
(poem)

Refugees

We Laughed at Him
(poem)

The Media War

Narrow Escapes

Vultures
(poem)

P
ART 3

The Fight to the Finish

The Economic Blockade and Starvation

The Silence of the United Nations

Azikiwe Withdraws Support for Biafra

The Recapture of Owerri

Biafra Takes an Oil Rig: “The Kwale Incident”

1970 and The Fall

The Question of Genocide

The Arguments

The Case Against the Nigerian Government

Gowon Responds

P
ART 4

Nigeria’s Painful Transitions: A Reappraisal

Corruption and Indiscipline

State Failure and the Rise of Terrorism

State Resuscitation and Recovery

After a War
(poem)

 

Postscript: The Example of Nelson Mandela

Appendix: Brigadier Banjo’s Broadcast to Mid-West

Notes

Index

INTRODUCTION

A
n Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat
him cannot say where he dried his body.

The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the “discovery”
of Africa by Europe, through the transatlantic slave trade, to the Berlin Conference
of 1885. That controversial gathering of the world’s leading European powers precipitated
what we now call the Scramble for Africa, which created new boundaries that did violence
to Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension-prone modern states. It took
place without African consultation or representation, to say the least.

Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria,
like a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party. It was one of the most populous
regions on the African continent, with over 250 ethnic groups and distinct languages.
The northern part of the country was the seat of several ancient kingdoms, such as
the Kanem-Bornu—which Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his jihadists absorbed into the Muslim
Fulani Empire. The Middle Belt of Nigeria was the locus of the glorious Nok Kingdom
and its world-renowned terra-cotta sculptures. The southern protectorate was home
to some of the region’s most sophisticated civilizations. In the west, the Oyo and
Ife kingdoms once strode majestically, and in the midwest the incomparable Benin Kingdom
elevated artistic distinction to a new level. Across the Niger River in the East,
the Calabar and the Nri kingdoms flourished. If the Berlin Conference sealed her fate,
then the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates inextricably complicated
Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims, and Christians alike were held together by a
delicate, some say artificial, lattice.
1

Britain’s indirect rule was a great success in northern and western Nigeria, where
affairs of state within this new dispensation continued as had been the case for centuries,
with one exception—there was a new sovereign, Great Britain, to whom all vassals pledged
fealty and into whose coffers all taxes were paid.
2
Indirect rule in Igbo land proved far more challenging to implement. Colonial rule
functioned through a newly created and incongruous establishment of “warrant chiefs”—a
deeply flawed arrangement that effectively confused and corrupted the Igbo democratic
spirit.
3

Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit
of ruling themselves. We have also had difficulty running the new systems foisted
upon us at the dawn of independence by our “colonial masters.” Because the West has
had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understand
what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution. A meaningful solution
will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share
the weight of Africa’s historical burden.

Most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember
a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and
progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal—natural resources, yes,
but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria.
In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa.


There is some connection between the particular distress of war, the particular tension
of war, and the kind of literary response it inspires. I chose to express myself in
that period through poetry, as opposed to other genres.
4
My Biafran poems and other poetry are collected in two volumes—
Beware, Soul Brother, Poems
(which was published as
Christmas in Biafra and Other Poems
in America) in 1971 and
Collected Poems
in 2004. As a group these poems tell the story of Biafra’s struggle and suffering.
I have made the conscious choice to juxtapose poetry and prose in this book to tell
complementary stories, in two art forms.

It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren, that
I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.

I begin this story with my own coming of age in an earlier and, in some respects,
a more innocent time. I do this both to bring readers unfamiliar with this landscape
into it at a human level and to be open about some of the sources of my own perspective.