Biafran Pound Notes

By Owen, Olly | Africa, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Biafran Pound Notes


Owen, Olly, Africa


ABSTRACT

This article examines the recent re-release of the Biafran pound currency, previously used by the breakaway Republic of Biafra between 1968 and 1970, by the separatist-revival group the Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in south-eastern Nigeria. It briefly traces the circumstances of its re-release, contextualizes it in the light of MASSOB's aims and activities and in reference to the original Biafran currency, and then works through rationales for such ah action. The article first explores and then dismisses economic justifications for releasing an alternative currency, then examines the more meaningful political case, before moving to ah examination of cultural factors which lie behind the choice to challenge a state's sovereignty via its currency. The broad label of 'cultural factors' is then unpacked to open a window on a rich tradition of political history centred on currency in the southeast Nigerian context, which spans the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial decades. The study also touches on contemporary studies of sovereignty and connects to wider debates on the nature of money as regards its 'economic' and 'political' functions as a token of value.

RESUME

Cet article examine la reemission recente de la monnaie biafraise, la Livre du Biafra, precedemment utilisee par la republique secessionniste du Biafra entre 1968 et 1970, par le groupe de renouveau separatiste MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra) dans le Sud-Est du Nigeria. Il decrit brievement les circonstances de sa reemission, la contextualise a la lumiere des objectifs et des activites du MASSOB et en reference a la monnaie biafraise d'origine, puis examine les raisons qui ont motive cette action. L'article commence par explorer, avant de Ies ecarter, Ies arguments economiques de l'emission d'une nouvelle monnaie, puis examine Ia justification politique (plus interessante), avant de se pencher sur Ies facteurs culturels qui sont a Ia base du choix de remettre en cause la souverainete d'un Etat par le biais de sa monnaie. Sous l'etiquette generale de <>, il ouvre ensuite une fenetre sur la riche tradition de l'histoire politique centree sur la monnaie dans le contexte du Sud-Est nigerian, qui s'etend sur les decennies precoloniales, coloniales et postcoloniales. L'etude touche egalement aux etudes contemporaines de souverainete et aux debats pius larges sur Ia nature de l'argent quant a ses fonctions <> et <> en tant que gage de valeur.

POUND NOTES

In early 2006, while the mainstream political agenda in Nigeria was dominated by President Obasanjo's rumoured attempt to change the constitution and secure a third term, some newspapers reserved a few column inches to report an announcement by the non-violent separatist Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) that it was reintroducing into circulation the Biafran pound, used by the breakaway Republic of Biafra between 1967 and 1970. The announcement was followed by a number of high-profile drives to introduce Biafran currency in transactions in major markets in the Igbo-speaking south-east of Nigeria, the former heartland of Biafra. This was done publicly on at least two occasions, the first in the large market centre of Enugu, former capital of the Eastern Region of pre-1967 Nigeria and short-lived first capital of Biafra, at the start of 2006. The second took place in the more remote Orie market in Awgu Local Government Area of the same state in March, where MASSOB campaigners used Biafran notes to make public purchases of several high-value items, including motorcycles. (1) Interestingly, it seems that the relaunch may have been preceded by a trial among diaspora Igbo communities elsewhere in West Africa in the previous year. (2) The reintroduction could be described more accurately as a recirculation--despite media descriptions referring to 'crisp' or 'new' notes, which suggest the possibility of their being newly printed, MASSOB sources have asserted that the notes used in the recirculation are part of the original stock of Biafra banknotes left unused within the secessionist enclave at the end of the war. …

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