There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

by Chinua Achebe

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From the legendary author of Things Fall Apart—a long-awaited memoir of coming of age in a fragile new nation, and its destruction in a tragic civil war

For more than forty years, Chinua Achebe maintained a considered silence on the events of the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Decades in the making, There Was a Country is a towering account of one of modern Africa’s most disastrous events, from a writer whose words and courage left an enduring stamp on world literature. A marriage of history and memoir, vivid firsthand observation and decades of research and reflection, There Was a Country is a work whose wisdom and compassion remind us of Chinua Achebe’s place as one of the great literary and moral voices of our age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101595985
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/11/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 959,834
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) was born in Nigeria. Widely considered to be the father of modern African literature, he is best known for his masterful African Trilogy, consisting of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer at Ease. The trilogy tells the story of a single Nigerian community over three generations from first colonial contact to urban migration and the breakdown of traditional cultures. He is also the author of Anthills of the SavannahA Man of the PeopleGirls at War and Other StoriesHome and ExileHopes and ImpedimentsCollected PoemsThe Education of a British-Protected ChildChike and the River, and There Was a Country. He was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and, for more than fifteen years, was the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. Achebe was the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement. In 2007, Achebe was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement.

Read an Excerpt

An 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 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 flourished 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.

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. 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.

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 understands 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.

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.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1

Pioneers of a New Frontier 7

The Magical Years 8

Primary Exposure 15

Leaving Home 17

The Formative Years at Umuahia and Ibadan 19

The Umuahia Experience 21

The Ibadan Experience 28

Meeting Christie and Her Family 30

Discovering Things Fall Apart 33

A Lucky Generation 39

The March to Independence 40

The Cradle of Nigerian Nationalism 43

Post-Independence Nigeria 48

The Decline 51

The Role of the Writer in Africa 52

1966 (poem) 62

January 15, 1966, Coup 63

The Dark Days 65

Benin Road (poem) 73

A History of Ethnic Tension and Resentment 74

The Army 78

Countercoup and Assassination 80

The Pogroms 82

Penalty of Godhead (poem) 84

The Aburi Accord 85

Generation Gap (poem) 90

The Nightmare Begins 91

Part 2

The Nigeria-Biafra War 95

The Biafran Position 95

The Nigerian Argument 96

The Role of the Organization of African Unity 96

The Triangle Game: The UK, France, and the United States 99

The Writers and Intellectuals 105

The War and the Nigerian Intellectual 108

The Life and Work of Christopher Okigbo 114

The Major Nigerian Actors in the Conflict: Ojukwu and Gowon 118

The Aristocrat 118

The Gentleman General 120

The First Shot (poem) 127

The Biafran Invasion of the Mid-West 128

Gowon Regroups 132

The Asaba Massacre 133

Biafran Repercussions 135

Blood, Blood, Everywhere 136

The Calabar Massacre 137

Biafra, 1969 (poem) 141

The Republic of Biafra 143

The Intellectual Foundation of a New Nation 143

The Biafran State 149

The Biafran Flag 151

The Biafran National Anthem 151

The Military 153

Ogbunigwe 156

Biafran Tanks 157

A Tiger Joins the Army 158

Freedom Fighters 159

Traveling on Behalf of Biafra 160

Refugee Mother and Child (A Mother in a Refugee Camp) (poem) 168

Life in Biafra 169

The Abagana Ambush 173

Air Raid (poem) 175

The Citadel Press 176

The Ifeajuna Manuscript 178

Staying Alive 179

Death of the Poet: "Daddy, Don't Let Him Die!" 183

Mango Seedling (poem) 186

Refugees 188

We Laughed at Him (poem) 196

The Media War 199

Narrow Escapes 200

Vultures (poem) 204

Part 3

The Fight to the Finish 209

The Economic Blockade and Starvation 209

The Silence of the United Nations 211

Azikiwe Withdraws Support for Biafra 215

The Recapture of Owerri 217

Biafra Takes an Oil Rig: "The Kwale Incident" 218

1970 and The Fall 222

The Question of Genocide 228

The Arguments 229

The Case Against the Nigerian Government 233

Gowon Responds 236

Part 4

Nigeria's Painful Transitions: A Reappraisal 243

Corruption and Indiscipline 249

State Failure and the Rise of Terrorism 250

State Resuscitation and Recovery 251

After a War (poem) 254

Postscript: The Example of Nelson Mandela 257

Appendix: Brigadier Banjo's Broadcast to Mid-West 259

Notes 267

Index 321

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Foreign Policy Must Read 2012" by Books from Global Thinkers

“Chinua Achebe’s history of Biafra is a meditation on the condition of freedom. It has the tense narrative grip of the best fiction. It is also a revelatory entry into the intimate character of the writer’s brilliant mind and bold spirit. Achebe has created here a new genre of literature in which politico-historical evidence, the power of story-telling, and revelations from the depths of the human subconscious are one. The event of a new work by Chinua Achebe is always extraordinary; this one exceeds all expectation.”—Nadine Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“A fascinating and gripping memoir.” —The Wall Street Journal

There Was a Country ought to be essential reading…an eclectic range of insights and fascinating anecdotes.”—Financial Times

“Achebe writes in a characteristically modest fashion…Like much of Achebe’s other work, this book about the progress of war and the presence of violence has a universal quality. In a world where sectarian hatreds augmented by political mediocrity have fractured Syria and threaten to bring Israel and Iran to blows, There Was a Country is a valuable account of how the suffering caused by war is both unnecessary and formative.”—Newsweek

"Memoir and history are brought together by a master storyteller."
The Guardian


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There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Omotola More than 1 year ago
Chinua Achebe is a master story teller, he has written this one masterfully , his writing is so smooth you won't realize when you finish this good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I was a child, things happened. Nobody explained these important landmarks of that time as current events and now no-one has taken time to write a historical sequences of events as detailed and chronicled in Chinua Achebe's "THERE WAS A COUNTRY". I invite every Nigerian, born, adopted and befriended to READ THIS BOOK AND LEARN. Excellent must read book for this summer. Stella Erondu
Zizi02 More than 1 year ago
The book arrived on time. I wasn't disappointed. Thanks Barnes&Noble :) This is a controversial book that gives an insight on the civil war that broke out in Nigeria. A tell-it-all from the author's perspective.
chiaka More than 1 year ago
Another one from the master himself. 5