‘Surrendering a struggle’: Biafran lessons to Tamil Eelam
In an article published in The Guardian on Tuesday, famed novelist Chinua Achebe, who hails from the Igbo community in Nigeria, opines that decades after Nigeria’s genocidal war on the short-lived state of Biafra, the Igbo people still face monumental problems under Nigerian rule. The Nigerian-Biafran war ended after the internationally aided Nigerian offensives on the Igbo people, which resulted in the death of around 2 million, compelled the leaders of the armed resistance for Biafra to capitulate. Whether the Solheim clique in the Western establishments who now claim that they could have saved civilian lives by facilitating the ‘surrender’ of the LTTE leadership in 2009 had the same intentions for the Eezham Tamil nation, ask Tamil political activists.
After the internationally forced capitulation, the political and economic situation of the Igbo worsened, while Nigeria paraded superficial improvements to the world.
Prof. Achebe, who is most known for his novel ‘Things Fall Apart’, is also poet, academic and postcolonial literary critic. Prof. Achebe had been a strong advocate for Biafran sovereignty when the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria to form a de facto state in 1967.
After a brutal civil war, which saw the deliberate targeting of civilians by the Nigerian forces, imposed starvation, and cutting off medical supplies to the Biafran territory, the Nigerian government retook the region after the surrender of the leadership of the Biafran resistance in 1970. The death toll among the Igbo during this period is said to range anywhere between two to three million.
In its war on the Igbo, Nigeria was assisted by a confluence of world powers, most notably the UK, which had strong economic relationships with the Nigerian regime. On the other hand, the political demands of the struggle for Biafra were not recognized by any major power in the world, though issues of their human rights violations touched Western media.
The parallels with Tamil Eelam are obvious, but for the fact that the LTTE leadership did not surrender the cause despite the compulsions by the International Community of Establishment (ICE) that in practice abetted the genocidal war against the Eezham Tamils.
Tamil political activists say ‘surrender’, as envisaged by some journalists, intellectuals and those in Western establishments, cannot just be taken as a humanitarian action that may have saved thousands of lives. They argue that it would have severe moral and political consequences that would affect the life, politics, and culture of the resisting people for generations to follow as a mortal blow to the idea of resistance and justice.
The current ramifications of the ‘surrender’ of the Biafran armed movement more than four decades ago have been elucidated by Prof. Achebe’s article in The Guardian through the questions he raises.
“Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens – who set up the republic of Biafra in 1967 – through punitive policies, the most notorious being "starvation as a legitimate weapon of war"? Is the information blockade around the war a case of calculated historical suppression? Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end? Are we perpetually doomed to repeat the errors of the past because we are too stubborn to learn from them?”
“Supporters of the federal government position maintain that a war was being waged and the premise of all wars is for one side to emerge as the victor. Overly ambitious actors may have "taken actions unbecoming of international conventions of human rights, but these things happen everywhere". This same group often cites findings, from organisations (sanctioned by the federal government) that sent observers during the crisis, that there "was no clear intent on behalf of the Nigerian troops to wipe out the Igbo people … pointing out that over 30,000 Igbos still lived in Lagos, and half a million in the mid-west".”
“But if the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war was not due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession, then why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war? Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million – mainly children – Biafrans killed?” Despite world establishments lauding Nigeria for reintegration and rehabilitation of the Igbo, Prof. Achebe notes that these have been but superficial cases that the Nigerian regime parades to the world to rehabilitate its own image.
“There are many international observers who believe that Gowon’s actions after the war were magnanimous and laudable. There are tons of treatises that talk about how the Igbo were wonderfully integrated into Nigeria. Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.”
“Borrowing from the Marshall plan for Europe after the second world war, the federal government launched an elaborate scheme highlighted by three Rs – for reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation. The only difference is that, while the Americans actually carried out all three prongs of the strategy, Nigeria’s federal government did not.”
“What has consistently escaped most Nigerians in this entire travesty is the fact that mediocrity destroys the very fabric of a country as surely as a war – ushering in all sorts of banality, ineptitude, corruption and debauchery. Nations enshrine mediocrity as their modus operandi, and create the fertile ground for the rise of tyrants and other base elements of the society, by silently assenting to the dismantling of systems of excellence because they do not immediately benefit one specific ethnic, racial, political, or special-interest group. That, in my humble opinion, is precisely where Nigeria finds itself today.”
Colombo’s Defence Seminar of 2012, that also saw the participation of military personnel from countries that abetted the genocidal war on the Eezham Tamils, harped on five Rs – rehabilitation, reconstruction, reintegration, resettlement and reconciliation. With the aid of powers that that have vested interests in the island, such grand terms are used to only to reconcile unitary Sri Lanka with the world community.
It can be deciphered through Prof. Achebe’s poignant article that the forced surrender of a struggle fighting for a just cause might appear as saving a few thousand lives at that particular moment, but in the long run, it only causes a systematic depredation of the resisting people at the hands of the oppressive system, the latter having gained more legitimacy owing to the surrender.
Tamil activists wonder whether this was the solution that those like Solheim had in mind when they claim now that they could have arranged a ‘negotiated surrender’ of the LTTE leadership to the Sri Lankan government.
At the height of the Vanni war, a representative of the Biafra struggle sent a message to TamilNet. He wanted the Eezham Tamils to remember that in his view they were fighting not merely for them, but for the cause of an array of nations and peoples like them all over the world. If the Eezham Tamils fail they fail the world of liberation he had said.
In The Guardian article, Prof. Achebe writes “As a writer I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours. Where there is justification for further investigation, justice should be served.”
It is high time Eezham Tamils and their supporters pose hard questions to the world establishments and international bodies like the UN, demanding justice for the internationally-abetted genocide through a restoration of their lost sovereignty in the clearest of terms.