07.- 11.06

P 28

The social production of war veterans in Africa, 20th-21st centuries. Identity processes and political re-mobilization

Camille Evrard, Madrid Institute for Advanced Study
Martin Mourre, Deutsche Historisches Institut-Paris/ Centre de recherches sur les politiques sociales
Romain Tiquet, Institut des mondes africains, CNRS



Short abstract:

This panel would like to draw attention to the formation of veterans' groups in Africa.
Concentrating on identity formation defined through the shared experience of military
violence allows us to ask a series of questions about the dynamics of contemporary Africa

This panel would like to draw attention to the emergence of veterans' groups in Africa. From a historical point of view, several studies have recently focused on the participation of African soldiers from the British and French empires in world wars and wars of decolonization. The notion emerging out of Political Science of post-conflict has led to a reconsideration of local arenas for the production of public policies. However, little attention has been devoted exclusively to veterans in Africa from both a historical medium-term conjuncture and a resolutely comparative perspective. Concentrating on identity formation defined through the shared experience of military violence allows us to ask a series of questions about the dynamics of contemporary Africa.

Possible contributions could focus on biographical trajectories, whether related to war trauma, career paths in policing professions or as a spokesperson for certain causes. The hope is that papers will also seek to understand the normative aspect of the war experience. For example, the study of associations set up in post-conflict situations provides an interesting framework for understanding the processes of politicization, or even clientelization. Finally, the various papers will deal with the mobilization, or the forgetting, of colonial history, or the struggles for national liberation during the 1970s and 1980s in broader collective histories, through commemorations or links between different generations of soldiers.

“…the brave new world they had fought for, had very easily faded into rotten world of unemployment and frustration.

The end of the Second World War saw a huge number of Nigerians soldiers demobilized at the demobilization centre in Oshodi, Lagos. However, no serious attempt was made to consider the predicament of the majority of these (121,652) Nigerians who were demobilized. The effect of the war on these soldiers, and the society cannot be overemphasized; hence the need to examine the socio-economic impacts of the war on the returnee soldiers and the society they returned to. This paper therefore, seeks to offer the much desired account on the challenges faced by the ex-servicemen after demobilization, and how they re-mobilized, and their impacts in the politics of de-colonization. This will be carried out using letters of protest, request for assistance, application for trade licenses and jobs; and the attendant increase in crime rates; violence, destitution in urban Lagos. The establishment of Nigerian Ex-servicemen Association, its impact in the politics of de-colonization will also be examined.

keywords: pugnacity, demobilization, returnees, decolonization, re-mobilization.


1. Mokwugo Okoye, storms on the Niger: a story of Nigeria’s struggle (Enugu) p. 134

2. N.J, Miner, The Nigerian Army 1956-1966 (London: Methuen & Coy. Ltd., 1971), p.14

Wars throw up unexpected outcomes. The Nigeria-Biafra War produced a veteran, who was forced by circumstances of ethno-regional politics to fight on both sides of the divide. Essentially, the war was fought largely between the Igbo ethnic group that seceded to form Biafra, and Nigeria. The ethnic nature of the conflict ensured that Igbo sub-groups in the Mid-West Region, who were geographically part of the Nigerian territory, got trapped and faced the dilemma of choice. The case of Alabi-Isama, whose Muslim mother hail from the Muslim-dominated Northern Region while his father is from an Igbo-speaking group in the Mid-West Region, demonstrates how ethno-regional affiliations can constitute a challenge for fighting soldiers. Alabi-Isama was forced by forces of ethno-regionalism to fight for both Biafra and Nigeria at different stages of the war. Tracing the issues that forced Alabi-Isama into this dual role, this paper raises the question of whether he is a Biafran or Nigerian war veteran. It discusses how Alabi was forced by circumstances beyond their control to fight on the Biafran side. The paper represents an attempt to understand the larger dynamics that shaped the Nigeria-Biafra War and produced a soldier who fought on sides they would rather have opposed. Studying the Alabi-Isama experience in the war and the travails he faced in his post-war career in the Nigerian Army unearths the powerful place of ethno-regionalism in Nigerian politics. Though he fought on both sides of the war, none of the sides mention him as a war hero. Studying Alabi-Isama will expose the fate of minorities in Nigerian politics, even in the area of the production of war veterans. It seeks to answer the question of whether it is a soldier’s action in the field of battle that makes him a veteran or veterans are written into history by political choices made outside the field of war.

Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia before the Nigerian Civil War was a senior military officer of the 4th Area Command of the Nigerian Army, Benin-City in the Midwest Region. During the war, he fought on the side of the Federal Government and was a prominent officer of the Second Division of Nigerian army under the command of Col. Murtala Mohammed that liberated the Midwest State from the Biafran forces.  He was appointed the military governor of the defunct Midwest State by General Yakubu Gowon from 1967 to 1975 due to his impressive military exploit that helped in the expulsion of Biafran secessionists from the Midwest State. At the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, General Gowon launched the Post-Civil War Reconstruction programme for the reconstruction of war-torn lgboland in the East Central State, while the Midwest State that equally experienced huge devastations during the war was reconstructed by Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia led Midwest State government with massive assistance from the Federal Military government, churches, local and international aid agencies. This paper focuses on the Ogbemudia`s military career, civil war soldering exploits and successes. A critical assessment of his role during, after and post-war administrative expertise clearly establishes him as one of the Nigerian Civil War veterans worthy of academic erudition.  The paper also looks beyond war and explores his post-war public service, particularly his foray into partisan politics when he was elected a civilian governor of the defunct Bendel State in the Nigeria`s Second Republic and other appointments he held in both public and private sectors.

Between 2000 and 2008 Zimbabwe experienced intense and unprecedented political competition pitting the newly founded Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) against the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU, PF). This compelled the Robert Mugabe led government to re-activate its liberation struggle networks by re-mobilizing liberation struggle veterans to ‘discipline’ what it arbitrarily defined as non-conforming citizens and interlopers in the nation. The war veterans and the nationalist power brokers contrived the MDC as a neo-colonial agent bent on reversing the gains of the liberation struggle. Central to this re-mobilization was the pathologization, I argue, of dissenting citizens through wanton infliction of physical and psychological pain. The War Veterans invented a repertoire of hate speech designed to delegitimize the MDC and its civil society allies. They labeled MDC supporters ‘stooges of the West’, ‘puppets’, ‘dissidents’, ‘ third forces’, ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘enemies of the state’. This disconcerting political scenario was a manifestation of contrasting value systems pertaining to questions of citizenship, resource ownership and governance that pitted Zimbabwe’s resurgent nationalist elites against the social-democratic opposition, largely represented by the MDC. War veterans and the nationalist power-elites assumed a reductive approach to citizenship whose core elements were black ownership of economic resources and the monopolization of state power by those who participated in the liberation struggle of the 1970s and their surrogates. The MDC advanced non-racial civic nationalism, regard for human rights and neo-liberal market policies. This polarization compelled the ruling party and the war veterans to discard the ‘inclusive and even non-racial’ nationalism which had informed their erstwhile struggle against colonial rule. The re-mobilized war veterans revived the war time Pungwes (Night-time rallies) as platforms to teach ‘the misguided’ young men and women about their country’s ‘painful’ history. In the run-up to the June 2008 presidential run-off the war veterans, army officers, and the youth militias compelled villagers to attend day-long rallies for doses of anti-MDC propaganda and anti-Western vitriol. The war veterans and associated militias berated the voters for kutengesa nyika (selling the land). In some odd cases of ‘political exorcism’, known and alleged MDC members had to reurura (repent) by acknowledging their political delinquency through the public tearing and burning of their MDC membership cards.