Monday, December 17, 2007

Is Darfur the next Biafra?

In 1967, a small region of south-eastern Nigeria broke away and declared its independence. That region was known as Biafra and it was made up of an ethnic group different than the one in power in Lagos. Nigeria, like many African nations, was a false construct from their European colonial overlords. This led to much internal political conflict and
The discovery of large quantities of oil in the delta of the Niger river, a sprawling network of rivers and swamps that was the southern-most tip of the Country hedged between the South eastern and South western regions, had led to the prospect of the southeast annexing this region to become self-sufficient and increasingly prosperous. However, the exclusion of easterners from power made many fear that the oil revenues would be used to benefit areas in the north and west rather than their own...This further fuelled Igbo [ethnic tribe of Biafra] fears that the northerners had plans to strip eastern oil to benefit the North.

After declaring its independence on July 6, 1967, Biafra was declared a rebel region and Nigeria's central government started a campaign of reconquest. This included a military campaign and a full blockade. Biafra was neither able to import food or export their recently discovered oil. This led to massive starvation and estimates of 1,000,000 deaths. Biafra used the deaths and the blockade to appeal for international help and recognition.
Biafra was recognized by a small number of countries during its existence: Gabon, Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania, and Zambia. Despite a lack of official recognition, other nations provided assistance to Biafra. France, Rhodesia and South Africa provided covert military assistance. The aid of Portugal proved to be crucial to the republic's survival.
On the flip side, the United Kingdom and the USSR supported Nigeria for promised access to the newly discovered oil. The war dragged on, but ultimately the Biafra army was overwhelmed by the stronger and better armed military of Nigeria. The war ended in January 1970. Biafra, as a independent state, died. There was some reconciliation with Nigeria, but a Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) still exists.

Compare that with Darfur. Just this weekend, Darfur rebels claim a victory against Sudan's army., the second in as many weeks. The first was an attack on a Chinese oil field. It is obvious that open warfare is happening in Darfur now. It is almost certainly over oil (and access to valuable grazing land). The international community has rallied against the atrocities in Darfur. Yet, the conflict drags on. The Sudanese government is supplied by the Chinese with weapons and training, while Darfur rebels don't have any support from major weapons suppliers.

I see real similarities in the situations so which of the following quotes will be true about Darfur?

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” - Karl Marx

"Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." - Winston Churchill