By John F Kerry, Former Secretary to the US Government September
(The story about Biafra. Biafra has blown to the ears of many nations across the world–it was a really sad end where a million people were starved to death in the past. Two million people. Think about that for a minute. There are almost ten thousand Oxford undergraduates. If each one of us died two hundred times, that would be more than a million deaths. Almost, but not quite. Yes, we all know about Biafra.)
THE UNITED STATES government never meaningfully recognized that the Biafran situation existed until this month. The government had not even breathed the possibility of official U.S. recognition of Biafra as a nation, predominantly as a result of the archaic “one-Nigeria” policy which America inherited from Britain and has guided State Department attitudes toward West Africa for years.
Earlier this month the State Department sent a six-man fact-finding mission to examine the needs of both Nigeria and Biafra and to make recommendations to the U.S. government about the necessary forms and amount of possible aid. Back then, Senator Charles E. Goodell (R.-N.Y.), accompanied by his administrative assistant–Charles W. Dunn–was in charge of the mission’s diplomatic aspects.
Four experts on African problems, led by Jean Mayer, professor of Nutrition at the School of Public Health, also treked to Biafra. They made detailed studies of the supplies and health of both sides of the conflict, but they concentrated on Biafra because of the huge gaps in America’s knowledge of the situation there due to the lack of diplomatic links with that area. Mayer said “At least this (the mission) means the State Department realizes that Biafra will probably survive for at least the immediate future.”
The Mission has prepared a 36-page report, edited by Mayer, which calls for an immediate ceasefire as the only way to provide adequate food and medical supplies, a halt of the atrocities being committed against Biafran civilians, and a huge increase in the amount of relief supplies. The report blasts the United States and the United Nations, except UNICEF, for their failure to aid the Biafrans. In a foreward to the report, Sen. Goodell states “It was our purpose to fill America’s factual void” on Biafra. “May these findings bestir the world’s leaders to prevent an indirect form of genocide.”
Right now, with the report still at the printer’s, it’s a moot point whether or not America will carry out the report’s recommendations. Chances are good when you consider that Goodell is a leading Republican and that Nixon seemed to smile at the Mission’s purposes. On the debit side is the influence of Great Britain, who, along with the Russians, are arming the Nigerians. No matter what the State Department does with the report, or doesn’t do, if this report of starvation doesn’t stir well-fed America, perhaps, as E. E. Cummings once suggested, we’d better “Burry the Statue of Liberty because it begins to stink like hell.”
BEFORE the civil war, Biafra differed from most developing nations because it had a good supply of food and water, and sound public health policies with many physicians, nurses, hospitals, and clinics. Following the slaughter of 40,000 Ibos in 1966, about two million Ibos and other minority groups left their positions throughout Nigeria and fled to Biafra. Additional refugees continue to pour into Biafra to avoid capture by the Nigerian troops who have gained a reputation for slaughtering whole villages.