by Rachel Ogbu
The 6th Annual International Igbo Conference took place at SOAS, University of London from 21-22 April, 2017.
It was a series of lectures, talks, film screenings all reflecting on the ongoing impact of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war 50 years on.
The ‘Legacies of Biafra’ conference explored the on-going impact of the war locally and globally. It examined how the first civil war in independent Africa influenced the perception of the continent internationally as well as its impact on the political and social structures within Nigeria.
As June 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of war, this conference provided a timely reflection on the war as a watershed moment in contemporary African history.
It also promoted the study of Igbo language and culture within & beyond the UK, while bringing academics and members of the community together for the purpose of knowledge sharing and exchange.
The mission of the conference states: Our conference serves as a bridge between the community and academia. In the last five years, the conference has created discussions and interrogations amongst contributors from all over the world.
Our ultimate goal is to establish an Igbo studies centre in London which will act as a hub for anyone interested in research in the field of Igbo studies (through a library, archives, museum and study space), as well as providing a resource for members of the public to learn more about Igbo culture (through access to artefacts and interactive resources).
2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of war, this conference provided 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 explored 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).
According to the organisers, 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 organisers believe that the impact the war has not been fully realised, and so the ‘Legacies of Biafra’ conference provided the opportunity to consider the historical significance of the Nigeria-Biafra war.
The conference was 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. Some selected member of the panels included poet and soldier Christopher Okigbo,
Some highlights included-
A video address from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the Legacies of Biafra,
Film screening: Afia Attack: The Untold Survival Stories of Women in the Nigeria-Biafra War by Ujuaku Akukwe & Chris Odili ( Frances-Ashley Media Productions), Chris Odili in conversation with Charlyboy (Charles Oputa) ‘Dream Biafra, Think Nigeria’, Ernest Emenyonu (University of Michigan-Flint) in Conversation with Pat Utomi.
Photo credit: Ijeoma Ossi, DJ Abass, Ugo A