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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les gosses à la Kalachnikov

by Jean Chatain

Africa: Kids with Kalashnikovs

Translated Friday 9 March 2007, by Ann Drummond

Africa : over 120,000 child soldiers, not to mention all the different militias.

“My name is Birahima and I’m a little nigger”… is how the novel Allah n’est pas obligé, by Ahmadou Kourouma begins. The ‘hero’ is a kid from Ivory Coast sucked into the turbulent situation in Liberia. Subsequent novels (such as Johnny Chien Méchant by the Congolese writer Emmanuel Dongala and Child Soldier: Fighting for my life by the Ugandan woman China Keitetsi*) attest to the fact that the child soldier – victim and torturer rolled into one - has well and truly become a symbolic character in contemporary African literature. Over 120,000 child soldiers have been recorded in around a dozen countries. In addition, most of the 6 million refugees and displaced persons in the continent are young people, belonging to the category of victims and combatants in equal measure (1).

As Henri Leblanc of UNICEF France commented in a dossier published in 2004, “Without glossing over the ‘worldwide nature of this phenomenon’, we have to admit that it is sub-Saharan Africa that is consistently throwing up new modes of conflict in which fighting goes hand in hand with child soldiers.” It has reached the stage where we now have to talk of an “integral link between recent African conflicts and the use of child soldiers”. The main type of recruitment takes the form of forced conscription. In Uganda the Lord’s Resistance Army (an armed group connected to a fundamentalist Christian sect which has for a long time been backed by the Islamist regime in Sudan in its battle against Kampala) is said to have abducted over 8000 children in this way during 2003 alone. Whether forced or voluntary, these recruitments affect first and foremost the most vulnerable populations: groups of displaced persons shunted across the country in the wake of battles, refugee camps, street children etc. Easy to influence and manipulate, these underage combatants are very much in evidence in the militias which thrive in many countries in crisis. As early as the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, minors formed one of the bases of the Interahamwe [Hutu] militias, the spearhead of the racist massacres orchestrated by the regime in place at that time in Kigali. It was their job to guard the Tutsi families and sound the alarm if they tried to flee, but they were also frequently used to take an active part in the killings.

As symbolic as it might seem, this murderous tendency is just one aspect – though certainly the most appalling – of the descent into hell for a whole generation of young people across the continent. Just one statistic by way of example: it is estimated that 12 million African orphans have become ‘head of the family’ following the death of their parents, victims of AIDS.

(1) Cf. Philippe Leymarie and Thierry Perret, Les 100 Clés de l’Afrique, Hachette, 2006, pages 275-277.

*Translator’s note: the quote is taken from the official English translation of Kourouma’s book by Frank Wynne. See

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