Opinion: Why young Africans need to know their history

My grandmother, Theresa Nsionu, told me about how she ran from town to town with her children to escape the violence during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War). Photo by Chika Oduah

Chika Oduah is an award-winning Nigerian-American reporter, writer and photojournalist. Chika's reporting goes beyond the headlines to explore culture, security, human rights and development in sub-Saharan Africa.
She is passionate about helping Africans document their history and has launched a digital archive to preserve Biafran War Memories.

The opinions in this commentary are solely of the author's.

Senegal, Dakar (CNN)Fifty-one years ago, a political decision changed the course of my life and I wasn't even born when it was made.

After several bouts of ethnic hostilities in Nigeria during which thousands of Igbo people were murdered and chased out of cities, back to their ancestral communities in southeastern Nigeria, leaders from the southeast declared on May 30, 1967 that the region would breakaway from Nigeria and form the Republic of Biafra.
Diplomatic efforts to unite Nigeria failed; war spilled out and continued pouring out atrocities for three years.
    The land of my birth- southeastern Nigeria- collapsed into a battlefield: Nigeria versus Biafra. Most of the Biafrans were like me, Igbo.
    My mother, an Igbo woman, was a six-year-old child when she ran away from a city in central Nigeria where Igbo people were being "slaughtered like chickens," as my grandmother told me.
    Bala Mohammed, a Nigeria soldier who recounted his experiences fighting against Biafra for the Nigerian army.
    Mom journeyed with her mother and siblings from one town to the next, fleeing Nigerian soldiers. She ended up in a camp where children died of malnutrition everyday.
    My father, also Igbo, didn't run. He stayed in his village, a hamlet nestled in a dense forest resting on the bank of the Niger River. It became a refuge of hundreds of Igbo families who had nowhere else to go.
    No one knows how many people died in the war and the Nigerian government has never presented an official death toll of it. Neither has the United Nations but estimates range from one to three million. Relatives I never knew disappeared and no one held funerals for them.
    Members of the disabled Biafran War veterans organization in Nigeria.
    Today, my mother can't stand cramped, windowless spaces, like small elevators or an MRI machine. In them, her heart pumps faster and she feels like the walls are falling on top of her.
    She thinks she's now claustrophobic because of the underground bunker she and her family had to stay in to hide from the frequent shelling during the war.
    If the war hadn't happened, my father wouldn't have permanently left Nigeria.
    Nigerian officers killed 150 peaceful protesters, Amnesty report claims