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Biafran Pound Notes

  • Olly Owen

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 an 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 an 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 south-east 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.

Cet article examine la réémission récente de la monnaie biafraise, la Livre du Biafra, précédemment utilisée par la république sécessionniste du Biafra entre 1968 et 1970, par le groupe de renouveau séparatiste MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra) dans le Sud-Est du Nigeria. Il décrit brièvement les circonstances de sa réémission, la contextualise à la lumière des objectifs et des activités du MASSOB et en référence à la monnaie biafraise d'origine, puis examine les raisons qui ont motivé cette action. L'article commence par explorer, avant de les écarter, les arguments économiques de l’émission d'une nouvelle monnaie, puis examine la justification politique (plus intéressante), avant de se pencher sur les facteurs culturels qui sont à la base du choix de remettre en cause la souveraineté d'un État par le biais de sa monnaie. Sous l’étiquette générale de « facteurs culturels », il ouvre ensuite une fenêtre sur la riche tradition de l'histoire politique centrée sur la monnaie dans le contexte du Sud-Est nigérian, qui s’étend sur les décennies précoloniales, coloniales et postcoloniales. L’étude touche également aux études contemporaines de souveraineté et aux débats plus larges sur la nature de l'argent quant à ses fonctions « économiques » et « politiques » en tant que gage de valeur.

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