The Transnational Apolitical Humanitarian: A Consequence of Biafra

Conference: The Asian Undergraduate Research Symposium (AURS2021)
Title: The Transnational Apolitical Humanitarian: A Consequence of Biafra
Stream: History, Anthropology and Archaeology
Presentation Type: Virtual Poster Presentation
Rifal Imam, New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


This essay explores the significance and consequences of Biafra in the history and conceptualization of humanitarianism in Africa, delving into the tensions between the political and the apolitical, or the “emotional.” Through the case study of Uganda, the essay analyzes the consequences of Biafra’s solidification of the perception of Africa in the humanitarian sector, particularly the move to transnational humanitarianism for individual human rights. Biafra emerged in the historically defined “global 1960s,” a period of transnational protests, the African independence movement, anti-colonial struggle, and a vital transformative period for the conception of scale and purpose of non-governmental aid, and more largely humanitarianism. Capitalizing on the new transnational human rights movement and the newly formed conception of genocide, Biafra pushed itself to the international stage to garner transnational support and recognition for the human right of sovereignty. In response, Nigeria and its paternalistic supporter, Britain, reframed Biafra as manipulative of the political and the apolitical humanitarianism resulting in the solidification of the indisposition of African States to protect its citizens. Biafra further solidified the idea that secessionist projects were not viable options for the postcolonial African state, as opposed to the European Balkans, as the African state could not be trusted. Humanitarianism, thus, transcended the nation and was aimed at the innocent, apolitical individual, and political engagement was seen as impossible, as illustrated by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Uganda.

Virtual Poster Presentation


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