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C H A P T E R T H R E E Moving Forward It is easy to underestimate the impact of African wartime experience on young people.The orientation toward community belonging can lead many youth to dwell in groups, which quite often consist of peers of the same gender and with similar past experiences. Most appear to be resilient and many seem upbeat. But the apparent reality is deceptive. Cultural orientations turn people away from troubling histories, emphasizing silence and a general avoidance of discussions of the past (at least in public) or terse understatement about what really took place. There is much to hide. A female youth who was raped or taken in by a wartime military group (or both) may not want others to know this, as it might collapse her social standing and make marriage prospects even more difficult (harder to conceal are any children that result from such circumstances). Male youth may not want people to know that they were veteran combatants,since that can make it much harder to return to their family homes or find a job and much more likely that they will be roughed up by policemen and suspected as criminals. Even if wartime pasts are hidden, they may remain hard to shake off. Some youth turn to drugs and alcohol, habits that many had picked up during times of war, to help them leave the past behind and ease present tensions. Wars and unsteady postwar circumstances also send uncounted numbers of youth (as well as children) underground,trapped by adults or snapped up by syndicates and falling into what amounts to contemporary slavery.Many others dwell on the social margins. It has not been uncommon for me to discover during fieldwork that substantially more youth reside in villages or neighborhoods than local officials indicate. While it is possible that village and neighborhood establishment leaders know about such youth, it is more likely that they do not.The leaders may routinely omit them from the rolls M O V I N G F O R W A R D 6 5 of community membership and disregard them as “bad boys”and “bad girls” who take drugs or drink booze and refuse to do and behave as elders dictate. Yet at the same time,as outlined in chapter 2,the irony is that wars thrust female and male youth into situations where they had to become independent and deal with wrenching circumstances on the fly. These hard-won talents may remain overlooked or discounted when youth look for work or social acceptance. Hiding the past can mean that the impressive array of survival, leadership, and other skill sets that youth learned during wars remain buried, too. This chapter investigates four prominent issues that sculpt the postwar trajectories and priorities of youth.The first section analyzes how adulthood expectations influence what youth do in the aftermath of conflict.The second assesses the expansion of sexual violence, mainly against girls and female youth,and its broad impact on youth lives.The third examines youth migration to cities, a critically important youth destination during and after wars. I end the chapter by considering the imprint of alienation and exclusion on the lives and views of most war-affected African youth. The Adulthood Quest Attaining and retaining adulthood is the most crucially overlooked youth issue in Africa. As Honwana has highlighted, “Youth are the majority of Africa’s population, but they have been pushed to the margins of their societies and live in a limbo between childhood and adulthood” (2012: 165). In war and postwar African nations, and many others as well, the ability or failure of youth to achieve manhood and womanhood and, should they be successful, to retain adult status, gets at the crux of differences between what youth must do and what elders and government and international institutions want them to do.The challenge of adulthood drives the priorities of many youth. The stigma of failed adulthood can be a source of public humiliation so unyielding that it can lead young people toward destructive and self-destructive ends. In some cases, the prospect of failed adulthood is less threatening and calamitous.But even then,other kinds of outcast labels and identities,tied to the absence of success as an adult,still may apply.There is no question that an elemental need in war-affected Africa and well beyond is finding out whether youth can become adults and what happens if they fail...


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