Chinua Achebe & the Nigerian Civil War


Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He is the son of a teacher and the most widely read African novelist in history. For the first 30 years of his life Nigeria was a British colony and it was controlled and exploited by the British for agricultural goods such as cocoa. As such, much of Achebe’s earlier work, including his most famous novel ‘Things Fall Apart’, describes the destructive influence that the European colonizers had on African culture.


The Nigerians were granted independence from the British on the 1st October 1960 but it was not long until internal disputes and unrest prompted a group of Igbo (people who lived in the south-east of Nigeria) to break away from the main Nigerian government. They declared their independence from Nigeria in July 1967 and called themselves the Republic of Biafra. Achebe lived in this area and worked for the Biafran government as an ambassador.


However, the war did not go well for the Biafran’s. The Nigerian army was more powerful and they imposed economic sanctions on the Biafran people preventing them from receiving food. Nigeria also prevented foreign medical supplies and doctors from reaching Biafra. By the end of the war in 1970 the inhabitants of the country were starving and it is estimated that between one and three million people died of malnutrition over the course of the three year war.


The majority of the people who died were civilians who had not been involved in the fighting but suffered due to the lack of food and adequate health care. These deaths created international outrage as poets like Achebe publicized the plight of the refugees in the camps through poems like ‘Refugee Mother and Child.’


As a result of the atrocities in Nigeria the organization Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctor’s Without Borders) was set up in 1971 to medical aid to people in war torn countries.