Troubling Humanitarian Consumption: Reframing Relationality in African Child Soldier Narratives


Mackey, Allison. 2013. “Troubling Humanitarian Consumption: Reframing Relationality in African Child Soldier Narratives.” Research in African Literatures 44 (4): 99–122. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.44.4.99.

Author: Allison Mackey


Given the proliferation of representations of child soldiers in contemporary socio-political, legal, and cultural discourse, I explore how the figure of the African child soldier is being mobilized and challenged in the twenty-first century by considering what imaginative and unsettling cultural and political work is being performed in a selection of autobiographical and fictional narratives: Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone (2007), Senait Mehari's Heart of Fire (2006), Emmanuel Jal's Warchild (2009), Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation (2005), Chris Abani's Song for Night (2007), and Delia Jarrett-McCauley's Moses, Citizen, and Me (2005). How are we to hear the voice of the child soldier, as a quintessential figure of the voiceless, when it asserts itself within an imagined transnational community of writers/readers of literature? I suggest that, even though they participate in an ethically and market-based economy of humanitarian consumption, the relational and indirect narrative strategies in these texts trouble the already troubled relationship between the spaces where child soldiers are being used and those where narratives about them are being consumed. Although there are no guarantees as to how these texts are taken up by readers, they at least have the potential of coaxing the reader into confronting difficult questions about the limits of “universal” human rights and into recognizing a need to radically rethink planetary relations.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Gender, Girls, Boys Regions: Africa

Year: 2013

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