Biafra: Not Just Catalonia: 3 More Places With Dreams of Independence

Self-determination is in the air. We began last week with a Kurdish referendum in Iraq, and we ended it with a raucous Catalan referendum in Spain; neither may amount to much, at least in the short term. But hope is a hard thing to extinguish, as "separatist" movements around the world can tell you. Here, 3 others holding out hope in 2017:


A country of 250+ ethnic groups, Nigeria declared independence from Britain in 1960, but a couple of military coups in 1966 stoked underlying ethnic tensions. In 1967, southern groups (led by the Igbo people, one of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groupings) declared the independent Republic of Biafra in Nigeria’s south. Nigeria refused to recognize the breakaway state, and a 3-year civil war ensued. All told, more than 1 million people lost their lives, many due to starvation. Biafra surrendered in 1970.

But defeating a secession movement on the battlefield is a far cry from defeating its spirit — and nearly half a century later, the dream of Biafra remains alive. These and other nationalist currents continue to make Nigerian politics choppy, as does a president whose frail health has the country continuously on edge. Southern leaders have rejected secession calls as impractical. But the movement for Biafran statehood is still considered enough of a threat that the Nigerian military declared the Biafra separatist movement a terrorist group just a few weeks ago—harkening back to a simpler time when just wanting a homeland of one’s own was enough to be labeled a terrorist.

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Nnamdi Kanu