Representations of child soldiers in contemporary African narratives

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Adesola, Ademola Oladipupo
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This dissertation examines the representations of African child soldiers in selected contemporary African narratives with a view to mapping the dominant factors that writers privilege in their depictions of child soldiering in sub-Saharan Africa. In its engagement with the African child soldier genre, this study posits that critical discussions of African child soldier literature have depended on the interpretive frameworks supplied by Western humanitarian discourses which oversimplify and de-historicize experiences of war in Africa. Such reductive decontextualizations of war realities, I argue, serve to champion a narrow vision of war in African contexts centred on a moral and humanitarian urge for Western intervention. Regardless of whether the casus belli legitimating those wars are genuine or not, those conflicts (and children’s involvement in them) are understood within the same racist colonial and ethnocentric stereotypes about Africa that have been privileged in Western thought and the Western moral-political imagination for centuries. Thus, in studying African child soldier narratives, I focus on novels whose settings feature African ethnopolitical conflicts – such as in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria – notable for their exploitation of children for military ends. I maintain that these works are significant in the varying ways they reify and challenge the Western ideas of “child” and “childhood,” as well as privilege child soldiers as social actors whose intricate makeups disavow being simply understood as innocent victims or irredeemable perpetrators of atrocities. Moreover, I contend that these works also participate in age-old Afropessimistic depictions of a homogenous Africa where it is dangerous to be children, where human lives have no meaning, and where wars are waged senselessly. Overall, my textual-interpretive analyses of the selected novels in this study emphasize the importance of some works belonging to the African child soldier canon to ongoing campaigns against the mobilization of child soldiers and the rehabilitation processes employed by international organizations and transnational NGOs concerned with children at war. In this regard, my critique of African child soldier narratives reveals that the understanding of prewar conditions is vital to initiating viable policies for the protection of children.
Representations, Child soldiers, Childhood, African wars, Humanitarian discourse, Human rights, Afropessimism, Agency, Western publishers, Paratexts, Transnational NGOs, Genre, African narratives, Children
Adesola, Ademola. "A Tale of Two Fighters: Images of Child Soldiers in Jewish and African Child Soldier Narratives." Journal of the African Literature Association, 2022, DOI: 10.1080/21674736.2021.2015824