Youth against Empire

Insurgent Youth

Cross-posted from Comparative Studies in Society and History

Small Warriors? Children and Youth in Colonial Insurgencies and Counterinsurgency, ca. 1945–1960

“Mau Mau are Angels … Sent by Haile Selassie”: A Kenyan War in Jamaica

Sometimes CSSH articles fit together remarkably well. One would almost think they were written to each other, like intellectual greeting cards, or the correspondence of old friends. Such is the case with two recent essays by Stacey Hynd (62/4: 684-713) and Myles Osborne (62/4: 714-744). Here’s how our editors characterized them:

INSURGENT YOUTH  The ranks of insurgencies are mostly filled by the young. The youth take to the streets and barricades more readily than do the aged, the propertied, and the established. Insurgencies depend on youth not only for their energy and hope, but also for the ways “youth” indexes the future, and presents a visage of innocence that seems relatively untainted by the stains and debris of historical wrongs. Yet insurgency can also be forced upon the young, even onto the fragile shoulders of children. The sources, networks, and reasons for recruitment are too often less than clear.

In “Small Warriors? Children and Youth in Colonial Insurgencies and Counterinsurgency, ca. 1946–1960,” Stacey Hynd explores how young insurgents are recruited and mobilized. Comparing Kenya and Cyprus in the 1940s and 1950s, Hynd shows that while some youth were coerced into armed rebellions, others joined of their own will. Teenaged warriors brought needed numbers but were especially valued for the ways they symbolized innocence and hope, helping to catalyze broader support for the movement.

Myles Osborne’s contribution also leads us to Kenya. In “‘Mau Mau Are Angels … Sent by Haile Selassie’: A Kenyan War in Jamaica,” Osborne examines the impact of Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising as the news of it circulated in Jamaica during the 1950s. The Mau Mau insurgency inspired Rastafari and other young and mostly poor Jamaicans, who saw it as a form of pan-Africanism much like Marcus Garvey’s. This version of Black Power in the Caribbean reveals intellectual frameworks developed by subaltern youth, and transnational circuits of pan-Africanism that formed even without direct contact or diffusion.

CSSH: We enjoyed reading your papers together. The overlaps in approach give incredible richness to the local insurgencies and global cultures of resistance you describe. Even more pleasant was learning that the close fit was as uncanny for you as it was for us. It wasn’t exactly a coincidence, but it’s fair to say you didn’t see it coming! Continue reading “Youth against Empire”

What is a Child? The Calais Child Refugees in Imperial Context

Members of the campaign group Citizens UK hold a ‘refugees welcome’ event outside Lunar House in Croydon. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA
Members of the campaign group Citizens UK hold a ‘refugees welcome’ event outside Lunar House in Croydon. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Rhian Keyse
University of Exeter

The plight of child refugees being reunited with their families and resettled in the UK has been the cause of much attention in recent weeks. The charity Safe Passage UK says that it has identified 387 unaccompanied children in the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp who have a legal right to come to the UK, either because they have close relatives in the country, or because of the Dubs Amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act which gives the most vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees the right to asylum in the UK.[1]

Yet, as the first children arrive on British shores, controversy is raging in the media, with some commentators querying the age of certain of these refugees, and therefore their right to be included in the resettlement programme. David Davies, the MP for Monmouthshire, has called for dental checks and hand x-rays to examine the new arrivals, alleging that some adults are claiming to be children to exploit the ‘well of hospitality that exists in Britain’ and subvert entry requirements.[2] Such calls raise important questions about the nature of childhood, and the competing constructions of the category.

These debates are not new, and calls to categorize childhood in purely physical terms are starkly reminiscent of colonial debates over which colonial subjects were ‘children’ and therefore deserving of humanitarian intervention. My PhD research on local, imperial and international interventions into child and forced marriage in British colonial Africa during the first half of the twentieth century illuminates some of these debates, and speaks to the problems with insisting on a rigid definition of childhood based on physical development and chronological age. Categorization of children and young people in this way is notoriously inaccurate, has been described as ‘inappropriate and unethical’ by the British Dental Association, and fails to take into account the social and emotional aspects of their lived experience.[3] Continue reading “What is a Child? The Calais Child Refugees in Imperial Context”

Rethinking Children’s Experiences of War: African Child Soldiers in the Second World War

child soldiers

Child soldiers in Africa are often assumed to be a new phenomenon, linked to the spread of so-called ‘new wars’ and ‘new barbarism’ in the civil wars which swept across the continent in the 1990-2000s. The defining images of the child soldier in today’s humanitarian-inflected discourse are those of the ragged young rebel boy in flip flops with an AK-47 in downtown Monrovia, or the kidnapped Acholi children seized from their families by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. New research, however, is beginning to challenge this assumption, and the idea that child soldiers are always either simply ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’.

There is in fact a much longer and deeper history of child soldiering in Africa than has previously been acknowledged. Our seminar groups have been exploring this history by analysing evidence for African children’s recruitment into British forces in the Second World War, looking in particular at the memoirs of former child soldiers who fought in Egypt, Burma and India. Although these memoirs need to be treated carefully, as they are adult recollections of children’s experiences, they reveal striking differences between contemporary and historical accounts of children’s experiences of war. Continue reading “Rethinking Children’s Experiences of War: African Child Soldiers in the Second World War”