CFP: RAL Special Issue on Biafra and the Literary Imagination

Research in African Literatures Special Issue
Guest Editors: Cilas Kemedjio and Anthonia Kalu

On May 30, 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwumeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the South Eastern Region’s military governor, proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Biafra at a champagne party in the city of Enugu, the first capital of the secessionist region. On January 9, 1970, Ojukwu handed over power to Chief of General Staff Major-General Philip Effiong. He fled the country and was granted asylum in Côte d’Ivoire. The Republic of Biafra would formally come to an end a few days later with the surrendering of its military leader in Lagos.

For the millions fleeing for their safety, the Republic of Biafra was a legitimate defense against aggression. Seen from the point of view of persecuted Igbos and citizens from the Eastern Region, Biafra was a humanitarian citadel designed to shield its beleaguered residents from the abuses they suffered in Nigeria. However, to Lagos—then the capital of the Nigerian Federation—the proclamation of the Republic of Biafra represented an unjustified rupture of the national compact. It was an insurrection against the authority of the central government and national sovereignty. The war engaged by the federal government again the Republic of Biafra was therefore a deployment of legitimate violence to subdue the rebels and reestablish the authority of the state within its internationally recognized boundaries. The war that ensued was the result of these conflicting readings of the secession. Whether we agree or not with one of these competing legal or ethical viewpoints, we must acknowledge that this war was a devastating human tragedy for the people who lived in the Republic of Biafra. According to the January 1970 issue of Time magazine that covered “the end of the rebellion,” as many as two million Biafrans perished during the war with another 1,250,000 were pushed to the brink of starvation. Despite the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster, unresolved controversies surrounding the war have continued to make conversations about the Nigerian civil war difficult.

Writers and poets such as Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa, Christopher Okigbo, and Buchi Emecheta lived through the war as active participants, citizens, or activists. The subsequent generation’s stories, such as Chimamanda Ngozie Achidie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, record another understanding of the tragedy. Creative writers largely embrace an uncompromising stance for our shared humanity. In this process, they repudiate both the directives of the Propaganda Directorate of the Republic of Biafra and the absolutist, if devastating, claim of national sovereignty, challenge the uneasy conflation of humanitarianism, politics, and the military, and make a bold stance for human dignity. By focusing on the banality of life in these moments of distress, these writers convey to the world that there was more in Biafra than starving bodies. They chronicle survival tactics and record acts of solidarity that were left beyond the global radar.

This special issue of Research in African Literatures seeks to pay tribute to this creative disorder and to, hopefully, move critical indignation forward with the view of rendering the suffering of Biafra meaningful for the “African renaissance” (Ngũgĩ).

All finished manuscripts are expected to conform to the standard RAL guidelines published in every issue of the journal and all submissions will be subject to peer review. Prospective contributors should send their abstract (300 words) with a short intellectual biography to Cilas Kemedjio ( and Anthonia Kalu ( by April 3, 2017.