University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > Narratives of Violence: Historicizing Representations of Child Combatants in African Conflict, c. 1980-2010

Narratives of Violence: Historicizing Representations of Child Combatants in African Conflict, c. 1980-2010

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Children are integral to contemporary warfare in Africa, and child soldiers in particular are often taken as evidence of the depoliticization, criminalization and civilianization of conflict. However, ‘new war’ theories do not fully account for the origins, spread or international impact of the phenomenon. This paper argues that a rigorous historical contextualization of children in African conflicts, their experiences and understandings of violence, and a historicized reading of the evidence upon which current claims are based, are necessary to develop a stronger understanding of child combatants in contemporary conflict. It argues that the modern ‘child soldier’ phenomenon is only partly linked to empirical evidence, and emerges from the entanglement of liberal humanitarianism, international law, and political discourses. As such, it analyses and historically contextualizes such discourses, situating child combatants within the wider crises of postcolonial states, the ‘youth revolutions’ facing African societies, colonial and independence-era patterns of child labour, delinquency and conflict involvement, as well as historical constructions of race and childhood in Africa. The paper’s empirical foundation consists of humanitarian reports, TRCs, legal proceedings, the published memoirs of former child soldiers, and archival accounts of children’s involvement in colonial and independence era conflict.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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