Representing the Child Soldier: Authenticity and Humanitarian Consumption in Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation and Chris Abani’s Song for Night
Lauren Devine[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 79 (Winter 2017/18), pp. 84-112]
Under the current global literary climate literary appropriations of the child soldier figure are indiscriminately consumed by a global ‘humanitarian’ audience. These narratives have significant potential power to influence and obstruct relational dialogue between the cartographic spaces of child soldiering, and the nominally occidental spaces where these texts are consumed. I analyse child soldier narratives as products that capitalise on the consumer desire for sensationalised stories of African juvenile combatants. Such sensationalism has been largely neglected in contemporary scholarship on the subject. Investigation of these literary child soldier figures is vital to interrogating the resulting relationship with the reader. I consider Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation and Chris Abani’s Song for Night, and assess the authenticity of these representations and their impact on the ‘humanitarian’ reader. These novels result in part from a contemporary demand for violent stories located in the African continent, and I address this desire as a projection of occidental paternalism. I consider the consumption of child soldier narratives as an act of performative humanitarianism designed to avoid addressing child soldiering in reality. Both Iweala and Abani destabilise this latent tendency towards passive reading in their nuanced attentions to the global complicities inherent in the reality of child soldiering.
Literary appropriations of the African child soldier figure are received among Western audiences with varying degrees and combinations of pity, sentimentality and empathy. Literature about child soldiers arguably contributes to Occidental1 suppositions depicting Africa as a place of violence and chaos, and of suffering as the natural state of the African.2 Consumption of this literature by an audience situated in the global North has the potential to bolster a moral superiority with which the West has historically imbued itself. This moral alterity positions the global North as the civilised other to the violent and fragmented postcolonial African state. Child soldier figures are often presented as victims of what Achille Mbembe calls the ‘war machine’ operation of these necropolitical states.3 Recognition of these circumstances beyond the realm of fiction remains largely unrealised among a passive Western readership. In light of this, I argue that ‘humanitarian’ consumption of child soldier literature causes this audience to assume a moral omniscience about the subject of child soldiering.4 This imagined moral position obstructs relational dialogue between the Westernised spaces where these narratives are consumed, and spaces of child soldiering in reality.
If not undertaken with a considered self-reflexivity, the act of reading child soldier narratives has the capacity to become an act of passing judgement; as if, by reading, the consumer has sufficient knowledge and experience to judge the actions and agency of the child soldier. I explore the tendency towards ‘humanitarian’ consumption of child soldier narratives, and how the writers I examine here destabilise an assumed humanitarian position. I analyse whether these authors’ representations prevent the reader from understanding the child soldier, or whether the hyperreal experiences detailed in the narratives achieve a new kind of responsive reading beyond what Maureen Moynagh has termed, following Nietzsche, ‘pity at a distance’.5
Neither Beasts of No Nation nor Song for Night facilitate emotional distanciation from the subject matter. On the contrary, both novels extract a specific response from the reader beyond indulgent sentimentality. The figures represented can be interpreted as attempts to educate the Western reader and familiarise a largely culturally uninformed audience with the child soldier experience.6 Bestowing this information on the reader challenges complacent readings and leads the reader to consider the global machinations surrounding child soldiering in reality.
In Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation Iweala manipulates form to create a visceral account of an individual child soldier experience. I analyse how Iweala’s manipulation of form compels the reader to engage with Agu’s trauma. My later analysis of Chris Abani’s Song for Night explores how the motif of reliving and releasing one’s ‘darkness’ or trauma in order to regenerate demonstrates post-conflict regeneration in a distinctly African cultural context.
In the act of deliberately navigating (or failing to navigate) a personal response to these texts it is necessary to question the extent to which consumers of the global North have become conditioned to accept these narratives as representative of Africa as ‘a place borne of hell and misery’.7 I hope to address the problems of performative humanitarian consumption and argue for the ways in which Iweala and Abani take the reader beyond this passive consumption.8
- Form, Sensationalism and Destabilising the ‘Humanitarian’ Reader: Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation
Texts about African child soldiers can be located within the emerging genre of ‘humanitarian’ literature. Global inequalities and postcolonial theory have ‘prepared a place in the Western imagination’ for these stories of the other, or the subaltern, and struggles of the postcolonial African state.9 In consideration of modern Western preoccupations with Africa, ‘humanitarian’ literature has the capacity to fulfil a consumer desire for what Mackey asserts are stories of ‘violence, displacement and lost childhood’ located on the African continent.10 As literature marketed to and consumed by a nominally Western audience, child soldier narratives ostensibly contribute to an Afropessimistic trope reinforcing projections of Africa as ‘a place born of hell and misery’.11 In consuming these narratives some Occidental readers undeniably assume an enlightened ‘humanitarian’ position.
This position prevents considerations of the global implications of child soldiering – implications beyond the localised necropolitical circumstances of the imagined African state. The narrative style and literary techniques used by Iweala in Beasts of No Nation upset and inform the reader’s relation to the child soldier figure. Iweala’s text works to remove the reader from the position of enlightened humanitarian, eliciting an emotional yet considered response in addressing the duality of the child soldier figure as both victim and perpetrator of human rights violations.
Beasts of No Nation follows nine-year-old protagonist, Agu, from his conscription into a stateless military regiment under the command of a lecherous Commandant to his journey ‘home’ and eventual admittance to a Western aid camp. Set in an unnamed West African country in the midst of an unidentified war, the title Beasts of No Nation references both Fela Kuti’s song of the same name and Wole Soyinka’s earlier novel Season of Anomy.13 In the latter novel, Soyinka uses the phrase ‘beasts of no nation’ to describe the bestial condition to which a war-ravaged and stateless population is reduced.14 Iweala outlines a similar state of bestial humanity in his novel, and holds this violent state of exception that Agu lives under accountable for his child soldiering. Allison Mackey accords Beasts of No Nation the position of being ‘meant to represent no one real person, while at the same time representing many.’15 In light of this statement – that Beasts of No Nation represents the reality of child soldiering to a culturally uninformed consumer – I undertake to examine the authenticity of Iweala’s representation and the reaction it produces. One of the primary focuses of this chapter is Iweala’s use of form, and how Iweala confronts the reader with violence and trauma associated with child soldiering. Iweala’s graphic representations of rape, murder and substance abuse can be interpreted in two ways. The text can be interpreted as a product of hyper-exaggerated sensationalism, designed to sell to a globally minded consumer and contributing to the reductive discourse surrounding the African continent and its violent struggles. Alternatively, I argue that the events depicted in Beasts of No Nation bring the reader’s attention to certain inhumane aspects of child soldiering not considered in popular discourse.16
The principal issue with a Western readership consuming Beasts of No Nation through a ‘humanitarian’ lens is as follows. An enlightened ‘humanitarian’ reader assumes an understanding of the issues surrounding child soldiering. The reader assumes this position without considering child soldiering beyond the context of the fiction they are reading. Mackey highlights the perpetual risk of texts such as Beasts of No Nation being consumed in this way, through an indulgently sentimental and apolitical lens by readers who turn them into ‘consumable spectacles of savagery and… cleansing sentimentality.’17 The sentimental and apolitical consumption of fictional texts dealing with non-fictional human rights issues, such as child soldiering, prevents the reader from considering the reality of these issues beyond their consumption. Beasts of No Nation, however, does not allow the reader the luxury of emotional distanciation. Iweala employs literary techniques to extract a specific response of troubled accountability from the reader, urging them to move beyond ‘pity at a distance’ and reconsider global inequalities that perpetuate the mobilisation of African child soldiers.
Insofar as Iweala uses form to achieve a closeness between his narrator and the reader, one of the most significant and powerful uses of form in Beasts of No Nation is the use of the present continuous tense. Writing in the present continuous tense achieves a stream of consciousness narrative style. The recurrence of the pronoun ‘I’ reminds the reader that they are bearing witness to an individual experience. This is exemplified in the overlong sentence which opens the novel, describing Agu’s sensory overload in the moments preceding his capture by rebel troops:
‘I am feeling itch like insect is crawling on my skin, and then my head is just starting to tingle right between my eye, and then I am wanting to sneeze because my nose is itching, and then air is just blowing into my ear and I am hearing so many thing: the clicking of insect, the sound of truck grumbling like one kind of animal, and then the sound of somebody shouting TAKE YOUR POSITION RIGHT NOW!’18
This overlong sentence, punctuated only with commas, means that the reader must mitigate their reading without the crutch of regulatory punctuation. Describing what Agu is feeling and hearing compels the reader to recreate these sensory experiences in their imagination. Iweala’s use of Pidgin English echoes Ken Saro-Wiwa’s earlier novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, and gives a visceral dimension to Iweala’s narrative.19 The intimate first-person narration positions the reader directly and inescapably beside Agu as he endures violence and psychological trauma. The lengthy run-on sentences often require a second reading in order to discern what is taking place among the myriad of solecisms. These grammatical solecisms, and the involved reading required to navigate them, compel the reader to vividly imagine Agu’s experiences.
These manipulations of form and grammar urge the reader to experience the war in which Agu is fighting in a literal, visceral way. A further literary technique that contributes to this is the use of onomatopoeic words. These sounds usually infer conflict: for example, Agu flinches at the ‘KPWING’ (p.20) of bullets during a skirmish with troops from the opposition, and describes the ‘KPWUDA KPWUDA’ rhythm of his machete during his first kill (p.26). The capitalisation of this onomatopoeic lexis adds a sensory dimension to the narrative as the reader recreates these sound-words in their own mind, and achieves a particularly jarring effect in the act of reading.
The present continuous narration causes the reader to experience Agu’s acts of violence from the interiority of his conflicted psychological state. Violence and trauma are compounded by solecism-ridden run-on sentences. Describing Agu’s first kill, Iweala employs a complicated set of literary techniques that emphasise Agu’s internal trauma. Prior to the act the Commandant pressures and threatens Agu, appealing to his fear of the Luftenant:
‘He is grabbing my neck and whispering into my ear, kill him now because I am not having the time oh. If you are not killing him, enh. Luftenant will be thinking you are spy. And who can know if he won’t just be killing you.’ (p.25)
This exchange encapsulates the double-bind of Agu’s position as a powerless victim, at the mercy of the operators of Mbembe’s war machine-state. In this instance, these operators are represented by the Commandant and the Luftenant, who have control over Agu’s mortality. Faced with the terrifying option to either kill or be killed, the erratic structure of the narrator’s interior monologue intensifies:
‘I am starting to crying and I am starting to shaking. And in my head I am shouting NO! NO! NO! but my mouth is not moving and I am not saying anything. And I am thinking if I am killing killing then I am going to hell so I am smelling fire and smoke and it is harding to breath, so I am just standing there crying crying, shaking shaking, looking looking.’ (p.23)
Repetition of ‘crying’ ‘shaking’ and ‘killing’ emphasises particular feelings, and this onslaught of emotive adjectives emphasises the trauma associated with the child soldier experience. Agu’s sensory overload in imagining that he is ‘smelling fire and smoke’ from hell also draws the reader’s attention to Agu’s fear of religious judgement. Most events of violence depicted in Beasts of No Nation are wholly unrelatable to a Western audience, but this fear provides a relatable reference, strengthening the relationship between the reader and the literary figure. The description of Agu’s first kill illustrates the duality of Agu’s interior fear and aversion to violence, versus his exterior obligation to comply with the Commandant’s orders or face death. This opposition demonstrates the psychological processes of a child struggling to rationalise their violent actions through the lens of a previously learned moral code. Agu’s speculations on the depravity of his actions undeniably elicit sympathy from the reader. Strengthening this bond between reader and narrator strengthens the possibility of the reader considering the crisis of child soldiering beyond their consumption of a fictional account.
Following the scene of Agu’s first murder, the subsequent chapter begins with Agu’s ‘proto-conscience’20 struggling to rationalise the internal schism between what he understands about right and wrong, and the reality of his powerlessness under the Commandant’s tyrannical rule.
‘I am not bad boy. I am not bad boy. I am soldier and soldier is not bad if he is killing. I am telling this to myself because soldier is supposed to be killing, killing, killing. So if I am killing then I am only doing what is right. I am singing song to myself because I am hearing too many voice in my head telling me I am bad boy.’ (p.29)
Confronting the reader with heavy repetition of ‘killing’ highlights the trauma of the narrator being forced to continually commit this violent act. The ‘too many voice [sic]’ in Agu’s head, telling him he is a ‘bad boy’, illustrate that Agu considers his actions inherently wrong. Yet these acts are essential to his survival under the Commandant. Demonstrating this inescapable dilemma of the child soldier’s position highlights the interminable moral conflict of becoming a child soldier, even when this provides the best chance of survival under a necropolitical state.
Failing the Child Soldier
The state of lawlessness in which the novel is set causes Iweala’s protagonist to perpetrate crime and violence in line with his new ‘soldier’ identity and to avoid death. Iweala emphatically demonstrates that the options of a child living through war all lead to either perpetrating or becoming a victim of violence. The author outlines the lack of alternative options for ‘infrahuman’ children in warzones. The lack of options for the narrator’s survival is illustrated in Iweala’s description of the entire country being consumed by war. Whilst examining a map in an abandoned school, Agu realises ‘everywhere there is war. I am looking at this pin and that pin and thinking, if I am to run away where can I be running to? Where can I be running to? War is everywhere.’ (p.129) Later in the novel he acknowledges the impossibility of leaving his regiment, asking himself how he will survive and how he can leave ‘if I am not knowing the way to be taking me away from the war.’ (p.166) Repelled though Agu is by his actions as a child soldier, his only alternative would be travelling alone. The need for human contact, even under the most unfavourable circumstances, illustrates one of the major factors that causes child soldiers to remain active participants in war, as they strive to belong to a group regardless of its militant or inhumane actions.
An explicit reference to the United Nations indicates the imperfect nature of humanitarian intervention in conflict zones. A ‘big white truck with the letter UN in black on the side’, complete with soldiers, arrives in Agu’s village (p.85). While his mother and sister are taken without question, Agu, also a child, is left behind. This event invites questions of the inadequacy of the global humanitarian response to the crisis of child soldiering, and reader is implicated in what Iweala portrays as the failings of the global community.
The event that finally gives Agu the resolve to abandon his troops is the death of Strika, his sole source of solace in the landscape of war. The lack of alternative presented for Agu throughout the narrative is an uncomfortable truth for a ‘humanitarian’ reader, used to identifying with agencies associated with the resolution of these kinds of conflicts, and performing the rescue of victims like Agu and Strika.
The stalled narrative voice compels the reader into an intimate and sensory navigation of Agu’s experiences, which is heightened during traumatic events. However, this same narrative style and the distortion of Standard English also denies the reader a linear or all-encompassing insight into Agu’s mental state. Omissions and linguistic disconnects remove the reader from any illusions of omniscience with regards to understanding Agu’s experience. When Agu perpetrates violence, he focuses on describing what is happening, neglecting his emotions. The first time he strikes a man, all Agu can see is ‘his head is cracking and the blood is spilling out like milk from coconut.’ (p.25) This infantile coping mechanism withholds the extent of Agu’s psychological trauma from the reader. These techniques create simultaneously involved and distanced experiences of Agu’s narrative. On the one hand, the reader is urged to consider Agu’s trauma and relate to his experiences emotionally. On the other, the lack of psychological introspection withholds knowledge from the reader, removing them from the position of assumed omniscience of the child soldier experience.
The narrative structure of Beasts of No Nation and the sensory descriptions of violence and trauma combine to make the act of reading both uncomfortable and personal to the individual reader. The sensationalism of violence could be argued to fulfil the Western consumer desire for conflict-focused narratives that allow the reader to assume an imagined ‘humanitarian’ position. I argue that Iweala addresses events of trauma and violence as representative of what many child soldiers experience in reality, and with the added motive of destabilising the moral complacency of the ‘humanitarian’ consumer.21
One such traumatic event depicted by Iweala that Agu repeatedly suffers is rape at the hands of the Commandant. The ten-page-long depiction of Agu’s sexual abuse (pp.99-109) provokes a heightened emotional response from the reader. Agu explains ‘I am not liking it when Commandant is wanting to see me, but I am having to go otherwise it will be making him to angry.’ (p.98) The atmosphere of dread Iweala creates, and the revulsion that Agu feels when the Commandant is ‘touching me and bringing my head to where he is standing at attention […] making me to want to vomit’ (p.103), is shared by the reader. Eleni Condouriotis has asserted that the inclusion of rape performs an ‘insistent rehearsal of Agu’s powerlessness’22 and reinforces his infrahuman status. Mbembe identifies necropolitical actors as those imbued with the power to dictate mortality in the operation of the war machine state.23 In this context, the Commandant has absolute power over Agu. Iweala emphasises Agu’s obligation to comply, as ‘Commandant is powerful more than me’ (p.102) and if Agu speaks out the Commandant ‘will be slapping me the way he is always slapping all the other soldier – until their bloody teeths is cutting his hand.’ (p.108) Agu’s rape at the hands of an adult whom is also his sole source of ‘food or protection’ (p.102) reiterates the double-bind of Agu’s position as a victim on both sides of the war. Agu’s rape is one of the most sensational passages in the novel, accentuating Agu’s state of abjection as both a victim and a child. Rape is not the most common aspect, however remains undeniably present in, the reality of the child soldier experience. In spite of the sensationalist potentiality of this content, which Iweala has acknowledged lends traction to stories of conflict,24 it is my view that omitting these events would diminish the authenticity of the narrative’s exposition of child soldiering. Including such an intimate violation, neglected in popular discourse, extracts a heightened emotional response from the reader.
Destabilising the ‘Humanitarian’ Figure
A trope that extends beyond child soldier narratives into the broader realm of humanitarian literature is the delineation of humanitarian aid workers or agencies as figures of hope for the suffering racial or ethnic other. In an article focusing on human rights and the problem of form, Maureen Moynagh observes that often in child soldier narratives, ‘first world’ readers are positioned ‘in relation to the humanitarian agent’ rather than the narrative offering scope ‘for readers to imagine themselves in the position of child soldier’.25 Makau Mutua has likewise outlined the damaging ‘savage, victim, saviour’ metaphor that exists within human rights discourse, and the problems inherent in the intervention of ‘morally superior outsiders’ who Mutua asserts intervene ‘at least partly for selfish reasons so that they can be reassured of the superiority they already presumed for themselves’.26 This desire to assert one’s imagined superiority can be extended to the consumption of child soldier narratives in the global North. Child soldier novels written from a Western perspective of humanitarian or aid worker align the reader with the narrating ‘saviour’ character.27 This figure reinforces the reader’s ‘humanitarian’ saviour complex, whilst reaffirming the secondary, infrahuman status of the child soldier. This identification on the reader’s part negates the humanitarian project they are attempting to achieve by reading texts such as Beasts of No Nation.
The psychosocial rehabilitation therapy that Agu is subjected to at the closing of the novel signifies a trope inherent in child soldier narratives, and ostensibly signals a point of humanitarian identification for the reader. In the final pages of Beasts of No Nation we are introduced to Amy, a ‘white woman from America who is coming here to be helping people like me’ (p.175). After navigating the solecisms and sensory affronts of Iweala’s narrative, this white, Western character indicates a figure of cultural and ethnic similitude for the ‘humanitarian’ reader. Amy’s character, however, does not assuage the reader’s conscience or provide a point of relationality. Instead, Iweala critiques Western attitudes and methods of rehabilitation.
Allison Mackey has drawn attention to the ambivalent relationship between Agu and Amy.28 This ambivalence is illustrated in Agu’s thoughts regarding Amy’s behaviour. Iweala does not describe an emotional bond between child soldier and aid worker; instead, Agu’s thoughts are focused on the exteriority of Amy’s appearance and the futility of her actions.
‘Her teeths is too small and her tongue is too big for her mouth so she is speaking through her nose, but her nose is too small so sometimes it is troubling me too much to be hearing what she is saying.’ (p.175)
Descriptions of aspects of Amy’s appearance as ‘too small’ and ‘too big’ combined with Agu’s dismissal of her as ‘like small girl’ create a caricatured impression of an intrusive and inefficacious figure. The rehabilitation methods used by Amy, far from ameliorating Agu’s psychological state or fostering a relationship, only add to his antagonism:
‘She is telling me to speak speak speak and thinking that my not speaking is because I am like baby. If she is thinking I am baby, then I am not speaking because baby is not knowing how to speak. But every time I am sitting with her I am thinking I am like old man and she is like small girl because I am fighting in war and she is not even knowing what war is.’ (p.175)
Asking Agu to verbally relive his experience, a typical method of psychosocial rehabilitation practiced by international agencies in post-conflict rehabilitation zones, is clearly felt as a ‘violent imposition of narrative coherence’ that Agu declines to conform to.29 Mark Sanders has examined a tendency towards infantilisation of child soldier in order to exculpate these children.30 Iweala reattributes this infantilisation onto Amy, who Agu sees as a ‘small girl’ incapable of understanding what he has experienced. Agu feels that his past is too terrible to relate to Amy, illustrated when he says
‘I am not saying many thing because I am knowing too many terrible thing to be saying to you […] if I am saying these thing then it will be making me to sadding too much and you to sadding too much in this life.’ (p.176)
Amy’s inability to relate to Agu’s experience undermines the reader’s assumed knowledge of child soldiering. This exchange reiterates that Western humanitarians such as Amy, and by extension honorary humanitarian readers, cannot hope to understand a child soldier’s experience of war through forms of rehabilitation such as confession-style psychosocial therapy.
Amy’s character also serves to highlight the cultural distance between the narrator and an Occidental audience. Agu had previously lamented missing the cultural ritual of his village which for him was integral to becoming a man, dreaming about the older boys becoming men and then waking up, ‘opening my eye and seeing that I am still in the war, and I am thinking, if war is not coming then I would be man by now.’ (p.70) The clean sheets and sandy beaches of the rehabilitation centre cannot provide this cultural restoration, and Amy’s interactions with Agu make no reference to the disruption of his cultural and societal development. By demonstrating to the reader how well-intentioned but culturally uninformed Amy’s methods are, Iweala authentically represents the inappropriacies of imposing Western rehabilitation efforts in non-Western contexts.31 This exposition of Westernised intervention destabilises the reader’s investment in a restorative and unambiguous resolution of Agu’s trauma.
The reader is denied a clean or successful rehabilitation story in the ambiguous ending of Beasts of No Nation. This ambiguity invites the reader to reconsider the way that demobilised child soldiers are handled and ‘rehabilitated’ via Western intervention practices. Agu’s non-committal interactions with Amy are among the most authentic aspects of Iweala’s portrayal, demonstrating the invasive nature of imposing Eurocentric theoretical discourse on non-Western contexts.32 Critiquing Amy and the merit of her methods nullifies this figure as a positive point of relationality for the reader, and destabilises the reader’s honorary humanitarian status. These rehabilitative shortcomings draw attention to problems of assumed humanitarian agency inherent in humanitarian discourse, and deny the reader the moral satiation of being akin to the solution.
Parallels can be drawn between the problems of humanitarian intervention illustrated in Beasts of No Nation, and the consumption of child soldier narratives of this kind. In reading these texts, an Occidental reader is inherently in danger of assuming that they are acting as an advocate of human rights and potentially also African literature. The proximity created in Iweala’s visceral narrative between reader and narrator repositions the reader as more than a passive witness, and Agu’s final internal monologue invites the reader to reconsider practices of the ‘purification’ of child soldiers through Western modes of rehabilitation. The traumatic experiences and uncomfortable truths that Iweala addresses confront the reader with global inequalities that exist beyond the realm of fiction, and invite a nominally Western audience to consider their relationship with victims of global human rights violations, such as child soldiers, in reality.
- Global Complicities and African Regeneration
Thus far I have explored the potential for an Occidental readership to adopt an honorary ‘humanitarian’ viewpoint in consuming child soldier narratives. I have established Iweala’s critique of this position through undermining Western humanitarian figures in Beasts of No Nation. My focus on Chris Abani’s novella Song for Night argues that author’s references to the global machinations that enable and facilitate conflicts involving child soldiers invite the reader to consider their accountability in addressing, or failing to address, these global inequalities. The responsive reading required here not only undermines the morally omniscient status of the reader, but in drawing attention to global complicities in child soldiering, bolsters the authenticity of Abani’s representation.
A distinctive feature of Abani’s representation is his exploration of regenerative possibilities for the child soldier figure in an African cultural context. I have analysed ways in which Western modes of rehabilitation are represented in Beasts of No Nation, and how they can be undermined as invasive and culturally inappropriate. Although representations of Western figures – ‘aid workers, missionaries, business people, psychologists, teachers, surrogate parents’ – are prevalent in child soldier narratives, Iweala’s novel demonstrates that such representations do not always translate into a figure of relationality for the ‘humanitarian’ reader.33 In Song for Night no Western ‘humanitarian’ figure is held up for scrutiny, and the narrator’s journey makes no reference to a specific form of Western rehabilitation. The omission of international conflict intervention prevents a Western readership from identifying with a fictionalised humanitarian entity. I will explore the alternative forms of spiritual and natural regeneration presented by Abani, and how introducing an Occidental readership to these cultural modes of regeneration undermines the authority of an assumed humanitarian reader.
Originally published in 2007, Chris Abani’s Song for Night opens at the scene of the narrator’s death. A mine explosion separates fifteen-year-old My Luck from his platoon, and the plot follows the protagonist’s consequent search for his regiment of fellow child soldiers. My Luck traverses a war-torn, corpse-strewn landscape which bears many similarities to that depicted by Iweala in Beasts of No Nation. There are, however, profound stylistic differences between the two texts. Abani’s narrative is delivered in a fluid prose that contrasts the stream-of-consciousness style of Iweala’s narrative. Abani’s literary style is eloquent and lucid as the reader is invited to speculate whether My Luck is alive or dead, on a journey that takes him through his past and across a country ravaged by war towards the release of his ‘darkness’.34
Like Beasts of No Nation, the protagonist in Song for Night is an active child soldier. Writing from the perspective of a mobilised child soldier differentiates this narrative from those such as Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. Texts such as Beah’s, that present child soldiers following their ‘reform’ via Western modes of rehabilitation, allow a nominally Western readership the moral satiation of being able to identify with the parties responsible for the child soldier’s rescue. Neither Beasts of No Nation nor Song for Night fulfil this desire for the reader. Both undermine Western intervention methods, and by extension the ‘humanitarian’ reader.
Language and the position of the reader
In the opening passages of the novel Abani addresses issues of language, narrative form and the understanding of the reader. My Luck’s first words, ‘What you hear is not my voice’ (p.9) are followed by an explanation that his inner speech is not in English: ‘because there is something atavistic about war that rejects all but the primal language of the genes to comprehend it, so you are in fact hearing my thoughts in Igbo.’ (p.11) Use of the verb ‘comprehend’ comments not so much on the child soldier’s ability to comprehensively grasp the war, as on the reader’s inability to understand based on relationality and shared experience. The Western reader is typically located in a privileged global space. This disassociates the reader from the experience of war as a victim. The experiences of these victims, then, must be translated from the language of the survivor into a language comprehensible to the global North.
However, Abani’s narrative voice applies a double-bind of obscured understanding to both Igbo and non-Igbo readers. The non-Igbo, nominally Western reader is informed that the translation of My Luck’s ‘inner-speech’ is not truly his ‘voice’ – and so their understanding of it can never be complete. Given the marketization and circulation of the novel in the global North, we can cautiously assume that the majority of the readership is non-Igbo.35 However, the Igbo reader is similarly denied an unfettered understanding by the text being written in English.
Abani’s metafictional reflection on the dilemma of writing in English acknowledges the representational barriers of writing a novel about a fictional African child soldier in English. Writing in English undeniably makes My Luck more accessible to a Western audience, and facilitates the consumption of the novel among this audience. Abani’s address of this issue, through My Luck’s speculations, invites the reader to acknowledge their uninformed position as a consumer of African literature: to acknowledge that they are the consumer of a literature written by an African author, and that English is used to mitigate the consumer’s selective knowledge and cultural alterity.
The author’s decision to write in English arguably problematises the authenticity of the novella. Some African critics, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o have criticised the decisions by African authors to write in English as a legacy of Eurocentric encroachment upon African literary culture.36 Others, such as Wole Soyinka have argued that writing in English is at times necessary, to offer an alternative perspective of what constitutes literature beyond the binaries of European categorisations and criticisms. Abani’s decision to write Song for Night in English can be interpreted as the author prioritising the needs of the Western reader to comprehend the narrative, over preserving the authenticity of his narrative. Attributing these motivations to Abani’s writing is plausible. In my view however, Abani writes in English to educate a culturally uninformed Western reader, and to solicit feelings of complicity and shared responsibility specifically for the plight of the African child soldier.
At key instances of trauma in the narrative, Abani employs language that distances the reader from the narrator’s experience. My Luck’s trauma is simultaneously heightened and obfuscated by his inability to vocalise his emotions. This is demonstrated when My Luck recalls the aftermath of his vocal chords being severed: ‘What they couldn’t know was that in the silence of our heads, the screams of those dying around us were louder than if they still had their voices.’ (p.25) The assertion that those responsible for My Luck’s muteness ‘couldn’t know’ the horrors of his internal silence signals a parallel assertion of the reader’s inability to comprehend the narrator’s experience. Song for Night tells of the horrors which ‘they’ cannot know. ‘They’ is an anonymous, general term, implicating ‘us’, too, as readers. Abani’s use of language here condemns the reader’s assumed understanding, and asserts that consumption of this literature from the globally privileged position of the West should not be championed as a humanitarian or empathetic act.
A singularly powerful narrative element of Song for Night is Abani’s exposition of the state of exception under which his fictional child soldier lives.37 Abani focuses on one of the most significant traumas inherent in the child soldier experience, and continually confronts the reader with instances of death and dying. A female mine-diffuser, Ijeoma, is a signifier of humanisation and intimacy for My Luck in the novella. My Luck and Ijeoma find refuge in their desperate relationship, making love after pillaging and killing ‘to make sure that amongst all the horror, there was still love.’ (p.78) The reader is able to identify a sentimental human element in this relationship, and the language in which Ijeoma’s death is described compels the reader to respond emotionally. Ijeoma is reduced to ‘a bloody torso, lacerated by shrapnel, body parts scattered in a way that cannot be explained or described.’ (p.44) My Luck’s loss also takes this sentimental refuge away from the reader. The death of Ijeoma augments the reader’s capacity to sympathise with My Luck. My Luck’s inability to articulate the state of Ijeoma’s body echoes Elaine Scarry’s assertion that extreme pain destroys language.38
Abani also represents deaths for which My Luck is responsible. These include opening fatal gunfire on a group of women devouring a baby’s carcass (p.19) and the murder of his troop’s leader, John Wayne, with an innocent little girl as collateral damage (p.31). My Luck continually ruminates on the depravity of these actions, and carves a ‘personal cemetery’ of crosses into his arm to mark both the deaths of loved ones and those he has killed (p.28). The casual language in which the narrator discusses death illustrates the precarity of the child soldier’s existence. The myriad depictions of death authentically highlight the constant closeness of death to the child soldier navigating a necropolitical landscape.
Disturbing content such as the constant presence of death in Song for Night can cast aspersions over the authenticity of Abani’s representation, and invite questions of sensationalism. As well as the constant closeness of death, Abani delivers systematic expositions of murder, rape and cannibalism. As I have previously explored with Beasts of No Nation, use of the first-person intimates the reader as more than a passive witness to these violations. Speaking about his art form, Abani speaks of his creative process ‘kicking the crutches away from my characters, forcing them into their pain and potential transformation.’39 In my view, the violent events portrayed in Song for Night also kick the ‘crutches’ of distanciation away from the potentially complacent or sentimentally indulgent reader. Abani refuses to censor his representation of the child soldier experience, or present ‘acceptable’ content out of consideration for a sensitive readership.
In addressing, rather than circumnavigating the violence and trauma inherent in the child soldier experience, Abani leads the reader to engage with impacts of child soldiering on the individual child (re)presented. This active position that the reader is urged to assume is heightened by the author’s use of questions. These questions are posed by the protagonist with the reader as the only addressee available to answer. These questions, combined with statements made by the narrator about the circumstances of war, provoke a consideration of the global politics that facilitate these conflicts.
Some of My Luck’s questions are specific to the experience of child soldiering, as we see in this question about his training: ‘How could I know what the training for diffusion of clandestine enemy explosives consisted of?’ (p.22) This rhetorical question highlights the naivety of child soldiers under the control of rogue operators of Mbembe’s necropolitical war machine. The war machine operator is characterised in Song for Night by My Luck’s commandant, John Wayne. Other questions invite deontological considerations, such as when My Luck asks: ‘What kind of God makes a world like this?’ (p.131) and ‘If we are the great innocents in this war, then where did we learn all the evil we practice?’ (p.135). The former question, about a God that My Luck holds responsible for creating ‘a world like this’, also invites an answer for the state of global affairs under which My Luck lives as a child soldier.
Many of the questions that intersperse the narrative use directive pronouns, such as when My Luck wonders ‘Who taught me to enjoy killing, a singular joy that is perhaps rivalled only by an orgasm?’ (p.153), and also when the narrator asks the reader: ‘What kind of leader forgets his men?’ (p.123) These pronouns, along with the continual use of the adverb ‘why’ forcefully address the reader and contribute to the relational structure of address that, as Mackey has already asserted, permeates the narrative.40 The majority of a readership situated in the global North have not experienced conflict as a victim. They therefore cannot hope to provide the answers to My Luck’s questions. By asking such open and ambiguous questions, Abani takes the act of moral judgement from the reader and reattributes it to his protagonist. The unavailability of the reader to provide answers recentres the reader’s moral universe to focus on the state of exception of life as a child soldier. The reader is embroiled in a deontological analysis of the moral fissiparity of My Luck’s position, living through a conflict in which normative universal moral constraints cannot be applied.
As well as asking questions, Abani’s narrative references the global machinations of the conflict in which the narrator is engaged. These statements demonstrate how living through war has familiarised My Luck with the political implications of war and various military protocols. For example, My Luck is aware that his forces are at a disadvantage when it comes to weapons because ‘We have no generous superpower sugar-daddies and we reuse every mine that we successfully defuse.’ (p.38) The term ‘superpower sugar-daddies’ refers to the ‘superpower’ title conferred on powerful and influential nations in global discourse. This statement references contributions made by the global North to the ongoing conflict in My Luck’s country. As citizens of these global powers, a Western readership is placed in a position of associated accountability.
The West is similarly represented as culpable for the underhand tactics deployed by both sides of the conflict. ‘It is a particularly cruel way to take out an enemy, but since landmines are banned in civilised warfare, the West practically gives them away at cost and in this way they are cheaper than bullets and other arms.’ (p.37) This sentence polarises the ‘civilised’ Western space, inhabited by the reader, and the destructive, primitive states which engage in unsanctioned and uncivilised warfare with the use of landmines. These landmines cannot be used in conflicts involving Western powers; however, these same ostensibly moral nations facilitate the sales and distribution of these inhumane weapons to less discerning or wealthy African countries. A description of My Luck’s platoon armed to the teeth with weaponry ‘mostly stolen from the better U.S.-armed enemy soldiers we had killed’ explicitly holds the United States responsible for arming the opposition (p.18). The way that Abani frames his narrative in this globalised context addresses external international factors that perpetuate the destabilised states from which child soldiers emerge.
Abani’s address of the West’s facilitation of African civil wars extends an accountability for the plight of child soldiers. This accountability is extended to the superpowers whose citizens consume narratives such as Song for Night. Subsequent postcolonial references permeate My Luck’s account, from ‘superpower sugar-daddies’ arming the enemy to the ethnocentric subtitle of My Luck’s French textbook, ‘French Afrique Book One: French Even Africans Can Speak’ (pp.38-39) (emphasis my own). These geopolitical implications have the capacity to provoke feelings of guilt amongst a Western readership, and prevent the reader from disassociating from their globally privileged position.
My Luck’s journey is not preoccupied with seeking rescue, or appealing to a humanitarian entity to alleviate his suffering. Song for Night denies Occidental readers a point of identification in a Western ‘humanitarian’ figure. Instead, Abani explores distinctly African cultural modes of regeneration and acceptance of trauma. The narrative arc of Song for Night explores spiritual sanctity as culturally regenerative. This is represented through different encounters and remembrances on My Luck’s death journey. These distinctly African regenerative forms serve a culturally informative function for the reader. I argue that Abani’s representations of regeneration succeed in undermining Western forms of intervention in a way not so different from Iweala in Beasts of No nation.
Abani presents spiritual regeneration by focusing on Nigerian Igbo ideas of death and the soul. The journey of My Luck’s spirit comprises the narrative in its entirety, as we come to understand that My Luck is killed before his narration begins. Throughout the narrative the protagonist revisits past traumatic events including his accidental shooting of an innocent young girl (p.31) and the death of his mother (p.73). An interaction with the deceased Ijeoma introduces the ambiguous state of My Luck’s soul as between destinations, or between worlds. Ijeoma tells My Luck: ‘“Before we can move from here, we have to relive and release our darkness.”’ (p.96) The reader can infer from this that revisiting past trauma, and releasing one’s ‘darkness’, is necessary for the soul to be released from the world of the living to what Abani only refers to as ‘the other world’ (p.101).
My Luck goes on to explain the Igbo belief about how a violent death can disrupt the path of a spirit:
‘Here we believe that when a person dies in a sudden and hard way, their spirit wanders confused looking for its body. Confused because they don’t realise they are dead. I know this. Traditionally a shaman would ease such a spirit across to the other world. Now, well, the land is crowded with confused spirits and all the shamans are soldiers.’ (p.101)
This statement foreshadows My Luck’s realisation that he has become one of these wandering spirits himself. It also highlights the acceptance and release of My Luck’s past ‘darkness’ as essential to his being able to enter the spirit world. This passage also illustrates how the war has disrupted the passing of these spirits: the shamans who would traditionally ‘ease such a spirit across to the other world’ are now serving as soldiers. This spiritual aspect of Igbo culture being disrupted by war emphasises the integral role that the sanctity of the soul plays in Igbo beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife. These beliefs are new to a Western readership. This focus invites the reader to reconsider their ideas about rehabilitation when placed in a distinctly African cultural context.
My Luck’s grandfather’s story of the lake in the middle of the world introduces the reader to another ‘legend of the Igbo’ (p.61). This origin story place an ancient lake at the center of My Luck’s culture’s beliefs about the sanctity of the soul. My Luck’s grandfather tells him that this lake is ‘the heart of our people’ (p.65), and these memories introduce the Igbo cultural association of the soul with the natural world. The dolphin that swallows My Luck’s soul ‘for safekeeping’ in the Cross river emphasises the elemental role of nature in Igbo beliefs regarding preservation of the soul (p.64). Disrupted by neither death nor violence, Abani’s descriptions of the nature that My Luck recalls ameliorate the place of nature in the narrative.
‘That was a special night: the gentle slap of the water on wood, the rustle of drying salt, the calls of river birds, the strange hippo barks, and the ticklish smell of the herbs burning gently to drive away mosquitos wove magic around my senses […]
He said when the earth was young and this land still a dream, the river cut its path through a mountain, a tear of sweat racing down a giant’s face. ‘(p.63)
This appeal to the senses of smell: ‘the ticklish smell of herbs’ and sound: ‘the rustle of drying salt, the calls of river birds, the strange hippo barks’ emphasises the reverence of My Luck’s memory of the Cross river. The sensory natural imagery presents the capacity of nature for the regeneration of both the living and the dead.
The sanctity of My Luck’s soul is a prevailing theme, and the journey through his trauma is necessary for him to access the spirit world. His temporally obfuscated journey is completed at the scene of reunion with his mother in death. In the single-page chapter that closes the novella, My Luck disembarks from a coffin that carried him across ‘the river of the dead’ (p.156). The spiritual significance of this river is signalled in the earlier Igbo stories from My Luck’s grandfather. A revitalised vision of his mother and the restoration of his physical voice, and not the arrival of Western aid, signify the narrator’s spiritual departure from the scenes of his trauma.
This spiritual journey signals that humanitarian intervention is not always the most appropriate solution for victims in a non-Western context. For My Luck, the question of spiritual regeneration is much more pressing than his rehabilitation in a social context. This cultural distinction undermines rehabilitation practices that a Western readership potentially identifies with, and champions regeneration cultural priorities unfamiliar to this audience. The expositions of Igbo cultural beliefs invite the international community to look beyond its paternalistic projections in considering the needs of the demobilised child soldier.41
The entire text is narrated following My Luck’s death, when humanitarian rehabilitation is no longer a possibility for him. This attributes a potential futility to humanitarian rehabilitation projects, as those living through conflict in non-Western contexts struggle with the disruption of the journey of the souls of the dead. By centring on Igbo traditions of death and the soul, in Song for Night Abani introduces a new set of cultural priorities to a readership situated in the global North. This depicts regeneration as culturally specific to the individual and more complex than the trope of ‘disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration’.42 The focus on spiritual regeneration, over any kind of rehabilitation in the realm of the living, lends a cultural authenticity to Song for Night. This focus creates a story of what it means to be restored post-conflict, not according to one’s status as a victim, but one’s cultural identity as an African.
I hope to have demonstrated the problems inherent in a readership situated in the global North assuming a humanitarian association whilst remaining opposed to, or disengaged with, child soldiering in reality. Literary representations of child soldiering attract a globally-minded reader as their primary audience. The capacity of this readership to consume child soldier narratives as an act of performative humanitarianism is varied, and at times, astounding. By consuming child soldier narratives, a globally-minded reader may feel they are asserting their condemnation of the necropolitical formations that utilise and facilitate child soldiering. In asserting this opposition through fiction, however, the reader remains able to neglect this humanitarian issue in reality. Iweala and Abani critique the reader’s assumption of this honorary and passive ‘humanitarian’ position. The emplotments of these child soldier experiences destabilise this consumption by engaging with issues beyond the scope of the reader’s individual sentimentality. Both Beasts of No Nation and Song for Night demonstrate an awareness of a human-rights-educated audience, and the authors manipulate their representations accordingly to destabilise the complacencies and misinformed assumptions that contribute to sentimentalisation of the child soldier figure through reading.
There is damaging potential for assumed understanding on the reader’s part, a position which both Iweala and Abani critique and interrogate. Each narrative emphasises the incapability of a Western readership – removed from the cartographic spaces of child soldiering – to relate through consuming fiction. I hope to have demonstrated how, from within the marketised space of the consumer, Beasts of No Nation and Song for Night subvert performative ‘humanitarian’ consumption and interpolate wider issues of humanitarian and development discourse.
Erica Burman has asserted how images of children can function ‘to comment on rather than maintain prevailing colonial and paternalistic relations.’43 Abani’s implications of the global North enabling African conflict makes precisely such a comment. These references indict the damaging legacy of colonial paternalistic projections for inhabitants of the global South. These texts reject Eurocentric stereotypes that depict Africa and Africans as a continent and people without their own solutions or cultural self-determination. Abani neglects all forms of humanitarian intervention, and his child soldier figure is independent from the assistance of the purportedly superior sphere of the Occident. My Luck instead embarks on an independent journey of spiritual salvation and the navigation of trauma, and the narrative prioritises the sanctity of My Luck’s soul in accordance with his cultural traditions. The considered expositions of Igbo culture readjust the humanitarian lens to consider regenerative priorities outside the realm of the reader’s cultural experience. A similar prioritisation of natural regeneration is favoured by Agu in Beasts of No Nation. Agu is ‘thinking one Iroko tree will be growing from my body, so wide that its trunk is separating night and day, and so tall that its top leaf is tickling the moon until the man living there is smiling.’ (p.176)
The desire of the global North to reaffirm boundaries of geopolitical and cultural alterity supports Eleni Condouriotis’ claim that a certain colonial project haunts humanitarianism.44 The geopolitical location of the reader to which these texts are marketed invites further questions about the motivations of constructing this figure in ‘humanitarian’ literature. This could lead to questioning how literary marketing takes place, and whether this commodification complicates issues like child soldiery out of all authentic recognition. A politics of placement applies to the reader’s existence in the selective space of consumption, and a broader hypothesis could explore the passivity versus consumer activism of this space.
Whilst navigating issues of representation and authenticity in fictional writing, the global complicities delineated in Iweala and Abani’s narratives urge readers to consider the ethics of their own consumption, and their passive complicity in perpetuation of the global circumstances under which child soldiers exist. Mark Sanders asserts that the nature of the South African apartheid occasioned a questioning of and thinking about complicity:45 a broader hypothesis could examine whether there is an acknowledged complicity in consumers of child soldier narratives. For we know that the abduction and abuse of child soldiers is occurring contemporaneously with our consumption of these fictions. Complicity in this context could combine passive consumption with this potential political apathy latent in the Occidental consumer, and examine the resulting distanciation of Western citizens from non-fictional child soldiers.
Writing on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mark Sanders stated that the Commission argued ‘for a heightening of personal responsibility, which […] would mean not washing one’s hands but actively affirming a complicity’.46 This heightening of personal responsibility could be extended to the Occidental consumer in their fictional and non-fictional interactions with subaltern victims of the global South. By navigating the moral complexities victims face in war from the narrative perspective of a child, both Beasts of No Nation and Song for Night reclaim the humanity of the child soldiers they (re)present. This humanity is all too often marginalised in a reductive popular discourse that relegates these children to the subhuman categorisation of infrahumanity. The work of these novels to culturally inform and shift perspectives invites a potentially new significance to be attributed to humanitarian fiction.
Lauren Devine graduated in 2017 from the University’s School of History with a first-class BA in English and History, specialising in African literature and colonial history. Her dissertation, featured here, won the 2017 Lionel Cliffe prize for best undergraduate dissertation on an African topic. Lauren’s academic interests post-graduation focus on humanitarianism and global development. A freelance writer, communications specialist and longtime outdoor enthusiast, Lauren is currently residing in Vancouver, Canada. Her blog is at https://grassrootspropaganda.com/
1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines occidental as: ‘Of, situated in, or characteristic of the West, or western countries.’ Also: ‘A native or inhabitant of the West.’ <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/130139?redirectedFrom=occidental#eid> [accessed 24.04.2017]
2 James Dawes, ‘Human Rights in Literary Studies’, in Human Rights Quarterly, 31 (2009), pp. 394-409 (p. 409).
3 Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’, in Public Culture, 15 (2003), pp. 11-40, passim.
4 For the purposes of this dissertation, my use of the term ‘humanitarian’ specifically refers to Western organisations and practices of humanitarianism, notably peace-keeping, post-conflict rehabilitation, and individuals employed by or representative of these organisations. One such humanitarian agency is the United Nations, which stipulates ‘Delivering Humanitarian Aid’ as one of its primary objectives:
<http://www.un.org/en/sections/what-we-do/deliver-humanitarian-aid/index.html> [accessed 01.05.2017]
5 Maureen Moynagh, ‘Human Rights, Child-Soldier Narratives, and the Problem of Form’, in Research in African Literatures, 42 (2011), pp. 39-59 (p. 40).
6 Madelaine Hron, ‘Ora Na-Azu Nwa: The Figure of the Child in Third Generation Nigerian Novels’, in Research in African Literatures, 39 (2008), pp. 27-48 (p. 27).
7 Dinaw Mengestu, ‘Children of War’, in New Statesman (14th June 2007) <http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2007/06/africa-war- burma-beah- sudan> [accessed 10.04.2017]
8 Alexandra Schultheis, ‘African Child Soldiers and Humanitarian Consumption’, in Peace Review, 20 (2012), pp.31-40 (p. 34).
9 Maureen Moynagh, ‘Human Rights, Child-Soldier Narratives, and the Problem of Form’, in Research in African Literatures, 42 (2011), pp. 39-59 (p. 41)
10 Allison Mackey, ‘Troubling Humanitarian Consumption: Reframing Relationality in African Child Soldier Narratives’, in Research in African Literatures, 44 (2013), p. 100.
11 Dinaw Mengestu, ‘Children of War’, New Statesman (2007).
<http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2007/06/africa-war-burma-beah-sudan> [accessed 10.04.2017]
 Fela Kuti, ‘Beasts of No Nation’ (1989) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCpua4dvUXs> [accessed 05.05.2017]
13 Wole Soyinka, Season of Anomy (Chicago: The Third Press, 1974)
14 Eleni Coundouriotis, ‘The Child Soldier Narrative and the Problem of Arrested Historicisation’, in Journal of Human Rights, 9 (2010), pp. 191-206 (p. 195). Coundouriotis asserts that Soyinka’s choice of words points out, ‘in Arendtian terms, that without the nation-state, without a sense of belonging, man loses his humanity.’
15 Mackey, p. 107.
16 For a preliminary account of childhood experiences during the Nigerian civil war, see Egodi Uchendu, ‘Recollections of Childhood Experiences During the Nigerian Civil War’, Africa, 77 (2007), pp. 393-418 (esp. pp. 400-403)
17 Mackey, p. 102.
18 Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation (London: John Murray, 2006), p. 1. All subsequent references I have made parenthetically in the text.
19 Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy has been widely acknowledged as an influential precursor to the current subgenre of literature about child soldiering, influencing authors from Uzodinma Iweala to Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie in the writing of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
20 Alexandra Schultheis, ‘Global Specters: Child Soldiers in the Post-National Fiction of Uzodinma Iweala and Chris Abani’, in Emerging African Voices: A Study of Contemporary African Literature, ed. by Walter P. Collins (Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2009), pp. 13–51 (p. 24).
21 When I refer to child soldiering ‘in reality’, I do not assume an expertise or intimate knowledge of the subject. My preliminary introduction to the topic comes from a variety of sources, but most comprehensively P. W. Singer’s Children at War (New York: Pantheon, 2005).
22 Coundouriotis, p. 196.
23 Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’, p. 12.
24 Condouriotis, p. 197.
25 Moynagh, p. 43.
26 Makau Matua, ‘Savages, Victims, and Saviours: The Metaphor of Human Rights’, in Harvard International Law Journal, 42 (2001), pp. 201-245 (pp. 202-03).
27 An example of this kind of narrative, centring on the humanitarian agent, would be Faith McDonnell’s Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Michigan: Chosen Books, 2007).
28 Mackey, p. 110.
29 Mackey, p. 111.
30 Mark Sanders, ‘Culpability and Guilt: Child Soldiers in Fiction and Memoir’, in Law and Literature, 23 (2011), pp. 195-223.
31 Mackey, p. 104.
32 Mackey, p. 104.
33 Mackey, p. 105.
34 Chris Abani, Song for Night (London: Telegram Publishing, 2008), p. 96. All subsequent references I have given parenthetically in the text.
35 Moynagh, ‘Making and Unmaking’, p. 535.
36 Ngugi wa Thiong’o, ‘The Language of African Literature’, in Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1986), pp. 4-33, passim.
37 For a detailed exposition of the state of exception, as referenced by Achille Mbembe, see Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception (London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
38 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 54.
39 Chris Abani, ‘Ethics and Narrative: the Human and Other’, in Witness, 32 (2009). <http://witness.blackmountaininstitute.org/issues/dismissing-africa-volume-22-2009/ethics-and-narrative-the-human-and-other> [Accessed 28.03.2017]
40 Mackey, p. 102.
41 Erica Burman, ‘Innocents abroad: Western fantasies of childhood and the iconography of emergencies’, in Disasters, 18 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), pp.238-253 (p. 238).
42 Erin McCandless, Second Generation Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Practices in Peace Operations (New York: United Nations, 2010), passim.
43 Burman, p. 238.
44 Condouriotis, p. 197.
45 Mark Sanders, Complicities: the Intellectual and Apartheid (London: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 1.
46 Sanders, Complicities, p. 3.