You are invited to: Biafra at 50: “Contradictions, Errors, and Lessons from the Humanitarian Response to Nigeria’s Civil War, 1967-1970.”

Map of Biafra

A talk by Jim Phillips

Professor Emeritus, Columbia University

In conversation with Taiwo Olanrewaju Bello

Doctoral Student, UTSC Department  of Historical & Cultural Studies


When: Thursday, October 24 @ 4 PM

Where: 2053 Wilson Hall, New College, University of Toronto



Biafra at 50: “Contradictions, Errors, and Lessons from the Humanitarian Response to Nigeria’s Civil War, 1967-1970.”

By some estimates, the Nigerian Civil War was the greatest catastrophe ever to have occurred in Africa. Over the June, 1967 to January, 1970 period, the conflict may have claimed as many as two million lives.  Dr. Phillips was a former relief officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross who participated in the Biafra relief action over the May to October, 1969 period as a logistics worker, and from November 1969 to July 1970 as a “UN Forward Observer” assigned to the Third Division of the Nigerian Army. The presentation outlines causes and consequences of the conflict, procedures followed by the relief action, and examples of strategies that failed to have their intended impact. Dr. Phillips is a demographer who is an Emeritus Professor of Public Health at Columbia University.


Jim Phillips is Professor Emeritus, of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health where he directed research on health systems development in Africa.  Prior to joining the Mailman faculty in 2007, he had Population Council resident assignments in the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Thailand and positions in Nigeria with the US Peace Corps, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and UNICEF.  At the Mailman School, Dr. Phillips was the founding Director of Advancing Research on Comprehensive Health Systems (ARCHeS), a program for developing evidence based strategies for improving primary health care program functioning.  Professor Phillips holds a sociology-demography PhD degree from the University of Michigan, an MS degree in Population Studies from the University of Hawaii, and a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Michigan.   

Following his service as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria in 1969 and before he pursued graduate studies, Jim traveled to the recently independent country of Equatorial Guinea where he acquired a position of “load master” with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a position that he held for only a month.  In this capacity he made 20 night flights into Biafra as a logistics worker with the Biafra airlift.  In late May, 1969 he acquired a position as Assistant Area Coordinator with the ICRC in Biafra, a position that he held for two months until relief operations of the ICRC were suspended and its personnel were evacuated to Cotonou.  He was hired at that time by UNICEF to serve as the “UN Forward Observer” assigned to the Third Marine Commando Division, Nigerian Army in Aba of southeastern Nigeria.  In this role, he was based with the Nigerian forces during their final assault on Biafra in November 1969 and served as a UN counterpart to the Nigerian Red Cross in the immediate post-war period.  His presentation is based on this direct experience with the relief action.    

Recent release of international correspondence and archival records have provided Jim with an opportunity to revisit this experience, interpret key events, and derive insights into the lasting lessons from Biafra for contemporary humanitarian relief programs. 


All Welcome!

Sponsored by the African Studies Program at New College

Contact: Prof. Marieme Lo, Director, African Studies Program  E-mail|


Date: October 24th, 2019
Start Time: 4:00pm
Location: 2053 Wilson Hall