STATEMENT MADE ON THE NIGERIA/BIAFRA CONFLICT BY HIS EXCELLENCY FELIX HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY, PRESIDENT OF IVORY COAST, ON MAY 9TH, 1968, AT THE IVORY COAST EMBASSY, PARIS.
BIAFRA: A HUMAN PROBLEM, A HUMAN TRAGEDY
Gentlemen: Since my departure in 1958 from the Government of Debre for Ivory Coast, in the course of several visits effected in your great and beautiful county, I have never accepted to hold a press conference in Paris except those I have held during my official visit, convinced that French public opinion is sufficiently informed about our modest action at the head of our young State.
If I break today this voluntary silence it is because I want o seize the opportunity, from this high place of liberty, equality and peace among men and among people, to cry out my indignation in the face of the inexplicable indifference - culpable indifferences - of the whole world with respect to the massacres of which Biafra has been the theatre for more than ten months. I rejoin my country, pained, indignant, deeply upset and revolted by the prolongation of this atrocious war which rages in Biafra and which has already cost more than 200,000 human lives, not to count the immeasurable cost in destruction of all kinds, in a country definitely rich but still under-developed.
One will have to, one day, multiply by two, by three, the number of these deaths, a list that increases from day to day if not from hour to hour when one thinks of the wounded who die for lack of care, of the so many people in particular infants and the old, who are dying of hunger - food having been quantitatively and qualitatively lacking due to the fact that Biafra, over-populated, is surviving only as a result of its miraculous resistance, having been cut off from the sea, from the banks of the Niger and its tributaries, from the North which used to furnish it with meant; has known for more than ten months neither fish nor meat, has been subjected to aerial bombings by pilots mostly foreigners - outstanding heroes more redoubtable for the fact that they do not meet any obstacle (fighter planes, rockets, D.C.A. shots) in their dirty duty of massive destruction and systematic extermination of a people without defence.
Do people know that there have been in Biafra in ten months more deaths than in three years in Vietnam? In Vietnam in the North as well as in the South, people eat at least when they are hungry, furnished as they are by their allies. In spite of the incontestable superiority in materials of the United States, the North Vietnamese lack neither planes nor D.C.A. nor rockets to defend themselves with.
In front of the French T.V. screen, in the course of the programme "Cinq colonnes a la une" of May 3, the poignant film projected on this forgotten war carried my indignation to the state of paroxysm.
I am addressing myself first of all to my African brothers in general, and also to my black African brothers in particular. Let others excuse me, for we, black people, have relatively suffered more and continue to suffer relatively still more racial discrimination with their evil consequences which we all know.
When, therefore, will my black brothers understand the necessity of breaking with this fatality which has wanted and still wants, alas, that blacks be killed with impunity or kill themselves with impunity? If we cannot as yet, as a result of the present weakness of our material means (and there is the sad evidence), prevent people from killing us, at least we have the possibility of stopping not only killing ourselves but also allowing others to help us massacre ourselves.
But our race continues to bleed this double hemorrhage. What is it then that justifies our culpable, I would even say criminal, indifference in the face of the massacres of our brothers, because Nigerians and Biafrans who fall are all very much our brothers? An internal problem, respect for the territorial integrity of every member state of the O.A.U., the sacrosanct respect of unity, religious quarrel, and intention secession decided by foreign powers so as to safeguard their egotistical interest? Nothing of the sort excuses our apathy in the face of the kind of crimes perpetrated by black brothers on other black brothers.
Amongst ourselves we must tell ourselves the truth, even if it hurts; even if it goes contrary to what we believe to be our own interest. We have all inherited from our ancient masters not nations but states - states that have within them extremely fragile links between the different ethnic groups put together by the colonisers.
Our number one objective is to build a nation, to realise national unity which is a pre-condition for all harmonious development. But it is a difficult task, a long-range operation which necessitates, on the part of all, and of leaders in particular, constant efforts of patience, tolerance, comprehension, and a love of a transcendental nature - rising above personal consideration, above tribe and quarrels between generations. It also necessitates an obstinate search for peace through dialogue and negotiation; the search no less obstinate for all that unites by the rational organisation of democratic parties, really democratic, without distinction of race or religion.
Unity will be the fruit of the common will to live together; it should not be imposed by force by one group upon another.
What happened in this vast, rich Nigeria, yesterday our source of pride, today a shame for everyone?
In Nigeria, as a result of the absence of a political organisation covering the entire Federation, opposition was never of an ideological nature, but of an essential tribal one. When an Ibo committed a crime people did not judge him as a misguided citizen of Nigeria; people held his whole race responsible for his crime. They killed 30,000 people residing in the North; from there they drove away more than a million of them after maltreating and expropriating them. By doing this they have broken, certainly without desiring, the fragile links that united it with other parts of Nigeria, The Ibos were thus forced to consider themselves as strangers in Nigeria and to return to their home to proclaim their independence.
Instead of engaging in a fraternal dialogue, the Government, obviously overwhelmed by the explosion of hatred and vengeance which it had not foreseen (to govern is to be able to foresee) replied by dividing the country and could only offer blockade and war to these people distressed, humiliated and rejected by the Nigerian family.
Where is the Region in Africa, which, placed in the same situation as the Ibos as a result of a crime perpetrated by one of its sons, would accept to continue to live with other parts of a state which considers it as an enemy? It is, therefore, necessary to bring back the problem between the Federation of Nigeria and Biafra under its one and only true aspect, the human aspect and to find a solution to it.
It is not a religious problem. The two military leaders who are engaged in a murderous and unequal combat are both Christians. That takes away from the trouble all religious consideration. Moreover, in our days this problem should be considered no longer valid, especially in Black Africa after the battle we all waged together against colonisation irrespective of our religious differences.
I, speaking to you, became a Christian not so long ago. As was the case with the majority of my Moslem and Christian brothers, I was converted from animism. A simple and practising believer, I consider all monotheists as my brothers, if not in religion, at least in God; that is the essential thing. I have more Moslem than Christian friends for the simple reason that there are more Moslems than Christians in Ivory Coat as well as in other parts of Africa. In any case, all these religions are based on charity and the love of one's neighbour. It is exactly this charity, this love of one's neighbour, which dictates my duty and which makes me cry out and proclaim my indignation in the face of this fratricidal conflict. It is because I know that I am a brother to all Nigerians, to all Biafrans, that I cannot support these massacres, this genocide which one century of British occupation itself did not inflict on Nigeria.
Secession manipulated from abroad so as to safeguard egotistical interests? We have all condemned this and we will all fight this kind of secession. Truth requires that we recognise that this is not the case in this lamentable affair.
No one can suspect Nyerere of serving any kind of interest. Whether the mineral and oil riches are exploited within the framework of one Nigeria or at the level of a region, it is always the same taxes and royalties the investors will pay since, as much as we know, the policy of the one and the other is not immediately one of nationalisation.
If Nyerere and myself who have different political and economic opinions are in agreement in recognising the necessity of withdrawing this conflict from a legal framework within which one would restrict us, it is because we nourish, with respect to the martyred people of Biafra, the same sentiment of compassion and because we consider their problem an essentially human one.
If we all are in agreement in the O.A.U. in recognising the imperious necessity of unity, unity as the ideal framework for the full development of the African man, we cannot admit as for ourselves that it should become his grave. We say yes to unity in peace and through peace, unity in love and through brotherhood. We say no to unity in war and through war, or unity in hatred. Unity is for the loving and not for the dead. It is banal to say it, but one has to repeat it quite often; war is evil for man; peace is salutary to him.
We must, therefore, sacrifice everything for peace. If our brothers fighting cannot live together in a Federation, let them both accept peace as neighbours, peace between neighbours being finally a bridge of love and of fraternity linking the two to them.
The example of Mali and Senegal teaches us that two countries that separate can meet again within a regional grouping on the basis of equality, of reciprocal confidence and of frank and loyal co-operation, conscious of their solidarity.
Tomorrow Nigerians and Biafrans, as good neighbours, will know how to heal their wounds, forget their quarrels.
The French and the Germans are considered as hereditary enemies, but are they not in the process of erecting a bridge over the great gulf of blood which has kept them apart for a long time in order to achieve, partly as a result of a close economic co-operation, an European grouping politically solid?
Meantime let us recognise that so many crimes which have been committed against Biafra and so much ruins which have accumulated make difficult - in fact, impossible - life in common between the Ibos and their other Nigerian brothers.
The culpable indifference of Africans does not excuse however that of the whole word. We maintain, alas, with sorrow - with the most profound sorrow - that no official voice has been raised outside Africa to denounce or condemn this genocide in our unhappy continent.
The French who, looking at their small television screen, have lived in a moment like the revolting drama going on in Biafra; the French who have known the horrors of war; the French who have a cult of human liberty and who are fundamentally attached to peace; could they remain for long insensitive to the sorrow which hangs on a people of admirable courage and who is fighting under the most difficult and the most inhuman conditions for its independence?
How could one understand the attitude of the British Government in this tragedy?
Since my own country's accession to independence, we in the Ivory Coast have shown the greatest possible consideration and understanding for the British nation. Personally, I have never hidden my admiration for the great effort at de-colonisation undertaken by Britain by giving back freedom to hundreds of millions of her colonised subjects, particularly in Asia and Africa. I even understood and admitted the complexity of the problem posed by the unilateral declaration of independence by the whites in Southern Rhodesia. Opposed always to all generalised condemnation, to all actions that do not lead to the desired resulted, being a convinced advocate of non-violence and negotiation, my country did not break diplomatic relations with England, although I was very pessimistic about the effectiveness of the methods prescribed by England in order to re-establish legality in Rhodesia.
I have always been opposed to the use of violence in Rhodesia for two reasons: first of all from political conviction (my constant and natural hostility to all violence is well known), and because I know surely that the English would never accept going to war against their white brothers in Rhodesia. I cannot condemn fratricidal conflict in Nigeria and approve of it in Rhodesia. I still continue to have confidence that Britain would herself find the means to put and end to this rebellion which in unacceptable to Africans.
>From this premise, I hardly understand, and find it difficult to accept, the attitude of the British Government towards the people of Biafra.
That the Russians, faithful to their policies, even though it would be embarrassing for them to consider Biafrans as imperialists that should be crushed, should furnish all sorts of arms to the Government of Federal Nigeria, we can, to a certain extent, understand. But that the British Government, leader of the Commonwealth, whose duty it should have been, in the face of such a terrible drama, to play the role of mediator; that England, hostile to all use of violence in Rhodesia; that England which had gracefully recognised the independence of Ireland after several centuries of living together under the United Kingdom, should furnish the most lethal weapons for the massacre of Biafrans, who themselves are citizens of the Commonwealth, surpasses our comprehension; indignation and revolted as I am, being their old friend, so I want to remain, in spite of everything.
Insofar as we Africans form a part of the world, we could not but be astonished at how little we are valued; at the indifference with which people treat everything that concerns us.
Certainly, we deplore, all of us, this war that the unfortunate Vietnamese people have had to bear since 30 years. The Vietnamese war cannot, however, compare in horror with the war in Biafra. More people die in Biafra from hunger than in Vietnam. The Biafrans, without arms, are fighting desperately for their independence, crushed by their own brothers who are assisted by two great Powers in their work of extermination.
The Westerners who have condemned the military junta in Greece astonish us - that is the least we can say - by their indifference in the face of the misfortune which has struck Africa. And, moreover, it is there essentially a Greek internal problem and the unity of Greece is not in question, neither are human lives there in danger. One could condemn the rape of individual and democratic freedoms by the new leaders.
All this should incite us, African, to reflect deeply on our common future. Let us avoid, at all costs, all that can pitch us one against the other. No one will help us in overcoming our crises. On the contrary, several are those who will venture to pour oil on the flames of our division. Where we cannot live under the same roof, let us try to live in peace in different cabins. Concord will not hesitate in coming back. Let us not clothe ourselves with considerations of a juridical nature when the life of man is at stake. Law is made by men for men. Law does not make a man. Let us take care that people do not exploit, at our expense, our own apathy, our flight in the face of our own responsibilities posed by the hundreds of thousands who have died in Biafra.
How do you want people to take seriously our complaints, our protests against South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal when we accept with joy of heart this real genocide that Biafra is experiencing.
I condemn all fanaticism except one. I am and remain, in fact (I shall not be able to espouse it sufficiently), a fanatic for dialogue, negotiation, thus for non-violence and peace.
Finally, we must realise this ineluctable fact even if, as a result of this military superiority in men and material, Nigeria succeeds in occupying the whole of Biafra., the problem of the secession will not be solved. There will, therefore, be no real peace in Nigeria as long as Biafra fights for its independence. May universal conscience take a sympathetic interest in this sorrowful drama and impose the solution which men of flesh and blood, who love Liberty, are waiting for: the "cease-fire" and negotiation which alone will bring peace to Biafra.