Most Nigerians are too young to remember the devastating civil war that ripped their country apart more than four decades ago.
But for world-famous author and scholar Chinua Achebe, 81, the Biafran War of 1967-1970 is more than a moment in history. It is a lesson that should not be forgotten, especially as Nigeria witnesses a new wave of sectarian violence that threatens to split Africa's most populous nation again.
Achebe’s new memoir, “There Was a Country,” was published in the United Kingdom on Thursday. It will hit the shelves in Nigeria any day now, and will be available in the United States on Oct. 11.
It tells the story of Achebe’s experiences in the Nigerian Civil War, when he served as a diplomat representing the would-be breakaway republic called Biafra.
Achebe is most famous for his 1958 novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which won him international acclaim. He now makes his home in Rhode Island, where he is a professor at Brown University. But with his new memoir, he hopes to remind his countrymen of a conflict not so dissimilar from the one that threatens to erupt in Nigeria today.
The price of such a clash could be horrific, just as it was during the days of Biafra’s attempted secession. In total, up to 3 million people -- most of whom were civilians -- lost their lives during less than three years of civil war.
A Forgotten Story
As often happened during the era of African colonialism, the British carved out the territory of Nigeria with little regard for ethnic, linguistic and cultural variations. When the country gained independence in 1960, the differences between the different regions of Nigeria were stark. Most northern Nigerians followed Islam, whereas Christianity had taken root more easily in southern regions.