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Reviewed by:
  • Child Soldiers in Africa
  • Beth A. Buggenhagen
Alcinda Honwana . Child Soldiers in Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, 199 pp.

Alcinda Honwana's Child Soldiers in Africa documents the precarious position of youth in armed political conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. Using ethnographically rich narratives and comparative perspectives, Honwana enters into the complex and bewildering debate surrounding the reintegration and rehabilitation of youth caught in armed struggles on the continent. Through prolonged intensive ethnographic fieldwork in Angola and Mozambique beginning in 1992, Honwana, born in Mozambique, sheds light on the predicament of a generation of youth caught in the crossfire. Alcinda Honwana's research considers the experiences of child soldiers, their families and the priests and healers who seek to repair the damage of war. Child Soldiers in Africa is an exemplary work of the difficulties of doing ethnographic research in conflict and post-conflict contexts. Both Angola and Mozambique, former Portuguese colonies that became independent in 1975 after protracted independence struggles, have experienced civil wars lasting more than twenty years in Angola and fifteen years in Mozambique. [End Page 959]

For anthropologists who struggle to render their research relevant to the political realities of those whose lives they enter, Honwana provides a dense account of the politics and possibilities of such an endeavor. With careful attention to the ethical and moral implications of her research into her interlocutors' experiences, Honwana provides a striking account of the difficulties young Angolan and Mozambiquan men and women encounter as they attempt to return to what turns out to be lives long lost as a result of conflict. In Child Soldiers in Africa, Honwana successfully merges academic rigor with political engagement and public policy; she shows how anthropological research can reach beyond the concerns of the discipline to those of the world at large. Her book will be of interest to anthropologists interested in making their research relevant to the public and to those in public policy seeking a more nuanced, complex and historical understanding of how the categories of youth, gender and combatant come to be constituted within a given society and for the purposes of international policy making.

Child Soldiers in Africa depicts the recruitment, initiation and retention of children into various political and often violent factions in Angola and Mozambique. Honwana begins by providing a comparative perspective on the participation of youth in violent conflict historically and globally; she is interested in old wars and new wars, in forms of order, disorder, law and lawlessness on the continent and globally. Here she does a particular service to the anthropology of African societies by showing how the incorporation of youth into armed conflict in recent history is neither a necessarily new phenomenon nor a particularly African phenomenon. Honwana argues that the recruitment and abduction of children into the military is part of a carefully crafted strategy aimed at decimating forms of moral community.

In the chapters that follow on the recruitment of young men and women Honwana complicates the categories of gender, youth and combatant that are so richly debated at this particular historical moment. She shows how the relationship between childhood and adulthood is socially and historically configured in the Angolan and Mozambiquan context. She shows how it has come to be that international organizations such as the United Nations are often unable to assist in the demobilization and reintegration of former child soldiers into the natal communities and how they come to be cared for by non-governmental and often charitable organizations.

Of particular note is an entire chapter devoted to the situation of young women, often the victims of extreme political violence and coercion [End Page 960] including rape. Honwana is interested in the forms of sexual violence that girls endure in the camps, as well as how their labor is exploited and the long term consequences of such labor conditions, which include physical deformities and mental trauma. Here as in other chapters Honwana carefully traces their insertion into the complex political economy of the military camps. Young women provide the critical labor and resources in the camp that sustain military actions outside of the camp. Young women may be cooks, cleaners, servants, gun runners...


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pp. 959-961
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