How Birahima Makes Sense of Necropolitics in Allah is Not Obliged

The kind of political power that Achille Mbembe describes in “Necropolitics,” is exactly the kind of power at work in Allah is Not Obliged. In his essay, Mbembe argues that political power is bound up in the power “to dictate who may live and who must die” (11). Mbembe demonstrates that this not the reality of some distant past, but rather it is still the modern measure of sovereignty. Much like the activity of the warlords who divide Liberia and Sierra Leone amongst them in Kourouma’s novel (157), Mbembe says that biopower involves segregations of people and place—determining the groups of people who will live and those who will die. War and politics thus become inextricable, and violence becomes popularized as “an extension of play,” a casual cruelty (19). As several other members of our class have noted, the violence in this novel is also excessive and casual, to the extent that Birahima has little affective response to the tortures, rapes, murders, and other violences that surround him.

I see Birahima’s meaning making narratives as reflective of the casual cruelty of his reality, a reality dictated by this necropolitics. As he tells his story, Birahima seems to be looking for answers: he recounts histories of the warlords, he dwells on why his friends became child soldiers, he looks for answers to why things happen the way they do. The narrator’s constant refrain throughout the book is that “Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth” (1). To Birahima, this phrase not only sums up the random chaotic violence of his world, but it is also a means of imposing order on disorder. If Allah controls the world, then the world is unfair because that is how Allah wishes it to be. Birahima’s Allah, then, is much like a warlord, whom he defines as a “big-shot” who is “allowed to kill anytime he likes for no reason” (32), thus the narrator’s religious narratives become a form of necropolitics. The implications for this means of making sense of the world for Birahima are that he believes he can gain power by perpetuating injustice. He believes that he too does not have to be fair in all he does. This sentiment is reflected several times, for example, when the narrator does not want to eulogize a fallen child soldier. He says, “I don’t have to, same as Allah doesn’t have to always be fair about everything” (178). This means of understanding the world is also a means of establishing power in a world in which, as a child soldier who could be slaughtered at any moment, he has no power.

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