Makers and Breakers: Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa

By Gondola, Ch Didier | African Studies Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Makers and Breakers: Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa


Gondola, Ch Didier, African Studies Review


Alcinda Honwana and Filip De Boeck, eds. Makers and Breakers: Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2005. xii + 244 pp. Photographs. References. Index. $29.95. Paper.

Makers and Breakers fills several important gaps in African postcolonial studies by exposing the plight of the majority and most vulnerable population in Africa: children and youth. The volume does not just endeavor to document their harrowing conditions and experiences. It provides a theoretical framework that enables readers to understand the social processes and economic forces that shape and are being shaped by African youths who find themselves embroiled in Africa's predicament because of their social status, ubiquity, and mobility. However, those of us who remain stubbornly and obsessively positive about the transformative ingenuity of African youth and who believe that African menacing clouds are laced with myriads of silver linings will take issue with the way these youths are portrayed in this volume.

The book is divided into four sections, with John and Jean Comaroff s chapter as the lone essay of the first part, an essay that serves as the theoretical lightning rod for the successive chapters by surveying the many facets of youth which, as a theoretical and disciplinary contraption, "stands for many things at once" and could be tied to the emergence of modernity.

Part 2, "The Pain of Agency, the Agency of Pain," delves into the critical issue of agency, first through two important contributions on child soldiers. Drawing on de Certeau's distinction between tactical agency (i.e., "the power of the weak") and strategic agency, Honwana posits young recruits who fought in civil wars in Angola and Mozambique as interstitial and tactical agents while deconstructing entrenched binary notions of child soldiers as either victims or innocents. Similarly, Mats Utas's essay discusses what could be termed "transient agency" in which young females involved in Liberia's civil war oscillate between the war zone and the civilian community and walk the tightrope between victimhood and agency. On the other hand, Pamela Reynolds's and Brad Weiss's respective essays deal with the cultural production of pain and how young people cope with the feeling of despair and alienation in the African urban crucible.

This discussion about the agentive versatility of youth is picked up in the next part with the two essays by Nicolas Argenti and Deborah Durham on the performative power young people can yield by subverting established notions of power. While Argenti looks at how innovative forms of masquerade in the Cameroonian grassfields provide the youth and women with an alternative discourse that subverts the hegemony of a modernist, national discourse created by the Oku palace, Durham explores choir performances among the Herero youth in Botswana. …

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