Books or bombs? The future of children in conflict situations in Africa

Author: Michael Addaney[1]

  • Introduction

It is believed that the underlying causes of armed conflicts in Africa are high levels of poverty, economic deprivation, socio-political exclusion, and bad political leadership (insensitive leadership, institutional weaknesses, and official corruption).[2] Upon a deep reflection of the situation, the only sustainable solution to all these causal factors lies in quality education. Meanwhile, available statistics and media reports indicate that children who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of this quality education to serve as bridges to address the prevailing and protracted armed conflicts across the African continent have abandoned their books for bombs.[3] These children have become key players and playing pivotal roles as child soldiers and suicide bombers across the deadly armed conflicts and insurgencies on the African continent.

  • Children and armed conflicts in Africa

Faleti posits that many children are involved in the ongoing armed conflicts and insurgencies in Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, and Guinea Bissau.[4] From an impartial perspective, one needs to soberly yet forcefully ask these probing questions. What are the African Union (AU) and the various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) doing to address these horrific situations? Is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) only effective on paper? What is the future of these children and their respective countries that are relying on them to be the sustainable solutions to these long-term conflicts occurring within their borders?

From a neutral perspective, the AU and the REC’s are woefully failing in their respective obligations to protect and promote the rights and welfare of children on the continent. The situation and condition of children in Libya, Mali, Northern Nigeria, CAR, Somalia, South Sudan, and elsewhere put the AU in bad light on the global sphere because it appears the AU and the so called African super powers (South Africa and Nigeria) are in themselves struggling to protect their own children against internal violence. Despite the relative peace and stable democracy in South Africa, statistics indicate that 16 per cent of South African children suffer from physical abuse and violence.[5] This implies that about 2.2 million children experience violence with violence being the leading cause of mortality and injury among children in South Africa.[6] More than 1,018 children were murdered in 2009 in South Africa with 45 per cent of these occurring in the context of physical violence.[7]

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria uses scores of girls as young as 12 years in hostilities.[8] Since the abduction of over 230 young girls in Chibok, the Nigerian government has proved its inability to defend, protect and promote the rights and welfare of children within its own territories. The Nigerian government in effect has woefully failed to account for hundreds of young boys and girls whom security forces have rounded up and forcibly disappeared during the past 6 years of the Boko Haram insurgency. According to local eye witnesses, several children are often seen within the ranks of Boko Haram during their attacks. In 2012, HRW posted a video recording of the Nigerian security forces interrogating a 14-year old boy who was accused of being a Boko Haram operative. The commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force in Nigeria has reported that they have freed numerous children during the 2013 attack on a Boko Haram base in the Sambisa forest.

What is the future of the African child? Continually, it is becoming obvious that the leaders of Africa are failing in their responsibilities in raising the next breed of leaders who would fulfill the dream of making this century the one for Africa. This is because without education the long desired aspiration for promoting the much needed economic and technological transformation to propel Africa’s growth and transition into a developed continent will remain a delusion. Even though investments in military resources are relevant, priority should be given to raising and developing our children because they are the future of this humble continent.

  • Books or bombs? The way forward

Despite the critical need for military and peace-keeping interventions, children are the best peace-builders in these polarised and divided societies in Africa particularly in transforming conflicts across cultures and religions. Therefore, instead of investing millions of hard currencies in buying weapons of mass destructions and military artilleries, essential portions of these precious resources should be dedicated to evacuating and educating the masses of these innocent children caught in armed conflicts across the African continent. This should be undertaken through making quality education accessible to children from conflict situations through granting them asylum status and scholarships in neighbouring African countries. This is because the best way to deal with violence across the continent especially those perpetrated by and/ or against children is through education.[9] Henceforth, children in armed conflict environments should be provided the opportunity to study subjects relevant to the situation of their respective countries to enable them to become the unifiers and bridges to their divided societies and nations.

Finally, the international community should put in place practical and sustainable mechanisms to eradicate the issues of child poverty, exclusion and substance abuse by ensuring that children at school going age have access to free and compulsory primary education through the policies of their respective governments. Studies suggest that attitudinal problems among children that make them vulnerable to armed groups and extremist movements are reduced through effective learning at school.[10] Again, addressing social concerns like poverty, socio-political exclusion and corruption would be the best sustainable solution to the protracted conflicts on the continent to eradicate the phenomenon of children vacating schools for the battlefield. Without addressing these root causes and underpinning factors, the various international and domestic laws would become ineffective in addressing violence against children in conflict contexts in Africa.

* Michael Addaney holds BSc Development Planning and Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the University of Cape Coast respectively, both in Ghana. Michael is a Corporate Member of the Ghana Institute of Planners (Social Policy option) and a candidate of MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria in South Africa.

[2] African Development Bank ‘Ending conflict & building peace in Africa: A call to action high level panel on fragile states’ 2014 5.

[3] D Gutelius ‘Islam in Northern Mali and the war on terror’ (2007) 25(1) Journal of Contemporary African Studies 64.

[4] AS Faleti ‘Theories of social conflict: introduction to peace and conflict studies in West Africa’ (2013) 44.

[5] F Veriava ‘Promoting Effective Enforcement of the Prohibition against Corporal Punishment in South African Schools’ (2014).

[6] R Morrell et al ‘Hegemonic masculinities in South Africa: Culture, power, & gender politics’ (2013) Men and Masculinities, 15(1) 20.

[7] S Mathews et al ‘The epidemiology of child homicides in South Africa’ (2013) Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 91: 562.

[8] Human Rights Watch ‘Nigeria: Boko Haram Abducts Women, Recruits Children’ 29 November 2013. Available at (Accessed on 15 March 2015).

[9] PL Dube ‘Affirmative Action’ (1995) Trinity.

[10] K Porteus et al ‘Alternatives to corporal punishment: Growing discipline and respect in our classrooms’ (2001) 9.