Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged
Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Synopsis of Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Allah is Not Obliged is a novel written by Ivorian author Ahmadou Kourouma. The narrative unfolds through the perspective of a ten-year-old boy named Birahima, a child soldier who becomes an involuntary participant in the civil wars that ravaged West Africa during the late 20th century. The novel is a blend of fiction and reality, drawing inspiration from Kourouma’s own experiences and the broader historical context of conflicts in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast.

The story begins with Birahima’s account of his troubled childhood, marked by the death of his parents and his subsequent journey through various traumatic experiences. The protagonist, while facing the harsh realities of life, develops a unique narrative style that combines colloquial language, local proverbs, and a child’s innocent perspective. This linguistic richness adds depth to the novel and reflects the oral storytelling traditions of West Africa.

Birahima’s journey takes a dark turn when he is forcibly recruited into a rebel militia, exposing readers to the brutalities of child soldiering. Kourouma sheds light on the manipulation and indoctrination these children undergo, exploring the psychological impact of war on their fragile minds. The title, Allah is Not Obliged, reflects the protagonist’s growing disillusionment with religion as he questions the existence of a benevolent God in the face of such atrocities.

Initially seduced by the status and power of the child soldiers, their insouciance and bravado, Birahima soon rises to the envied position of mascot to the warlord Papa Le Bon. But after Papa is killed, a breakaway band of soldiers and children flee. Birahima finds himself, along with the other children, moving between one warring faction and another, each led by a distinctive, colourful, sometimes female leader.

To each he offers his allegiance, the decision determined by who has the best rations and newest Kalashnikovs. The children are controlled with drugs, prayer and food – child soldiers are an army’s most valuable and therefore best-fed commodity – but mostly by the simple fact that the militias are the only family that they have. For these fighters, with names like Tete Brulee and Captain Kid, who squabble and shoot each other and then burst into tears, all share the same goal as Birahima: to find their family; any family.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Through Kourouma’s skilful telling, the characters live on the page. He employs satire, though never stoops to stereotype, even in his depiction of the various warlords, who view the child-soldiers with expediency but also with immense sentimentality. The funeral of a child-soldier, for everybody in the camp, is a painful and grief-stricken affair.

Although it is never made entirely clear where Birahima’s village is located – Ivory Coast or Guinea -Kourouma conjures a true vision of West Africa that brings us closer to understanding recent events. In this world, imposed boundaries are of little relevance; lands are distinguished by those who inhabit them. In an instant the artificial lunacy of creating these nation states during the “scramble for Africa” becomes evident, as does the reason why the violence in Liberia spread so rapidly outwards, like sparks from a bush fire.

Throughout the narrative the history of the region is deftly woven into the story. Throughout the narrative, Kourouma employs a mix of humor, satire, and tragedy to convey the absurdity of war and the moral ambiguity surrounding the actions of both rebel and government forces. The novel critiques the political and social systems that perpetuate conflict in West Africa, highlighting the exploitation of child soldiers and the cycle of violence that ensnares them.

Crossing the border into Liberia, they are seized by rebels and forced into military service. Birahima is given a Kalashnikov, minimal rations of food, a small supply of dope and a tiny wage. Fighting in a chaotic civil war alongside many other boys, Birahima sees death, torture, dismemberment and madness but somehow manages to retain his own sanity. Raw and unforgettable, despairing yet filled with laughter, Allah Is Not Obliged reveals the ways in which children’s innocence and youth are compromised by war.

Themes in Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Ecocide in Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Ahmadou Kourouma’s “Allah is Not Obliged” intricately weaves a narrative that delves into the profound ecological consequences of armed conflict, embodying a concept akin to ecocide. The novel stands as a poignant commentary on the interconnectedness of human actions and environmental devastation, offering a nuanced exploration of the lasting impact of war on ecosystems. Within the narrative, Kourouma paints a vivid and harrowing picture of the physical and emotional toll of war in West Africa.

The novel’s exploration of armed conflict goes beyond the immediate human suffering, extending to the degradation of the natural environment. Scenes of destroyed villages, scorched landscapes, and polluted water sources vividly depict the environmental catastrophe that accompanies warfare. For example through the narrative of Birahima thus;

In tribal wars and even in Liberia, the child-soldiers, the small-soldiers, don’t get paid. They just kill people and steal everything worth stealing. In tribal wars and even in Liberia, the soldiers don’t get paid. They massacre the people and keep everything worth keeping. So as they have enough to eat and all the other stuff they need, the child-soldiers and the real soldiers sell off everything they steal really cheap. That’s why in Liberia you can get everything really cheap. You can get cheap gold, cheap diamonds, cheap TVs, cheap four-by-fours, cheap guns and AK-47s or kalashes. Every, every fucking thing is cheap.  (39)

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

From the above quotation, it could be seen that the environment have been depredated by the warlords as the wars goes on and due to this wanton destructions of lives and properties, the spoiled of war are now sold at the cheaper rate by the warlords such as Colonel Papa le Bon and General Samuel Doe. However, the concept of ecocide in Allah is Not Obliged is manifest in the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, a driving force behind the conflicts portrayed in the novel.

Kourouma critiques the unregulated extraction of valuable resources, such as diamonds and minerals, which not only fuels violence but also leads to the irreversible degradation of ecosystems. The novel thus serves as a stark reminder of the environmental price paid for the pursuit of wealth through resource exploitation.

Equally, one of the most striking aspects of the novel is its portrayal of child soldiers and their role in perpetuating both human suffering and ecological harm. Kourouma’s exploration of the brutal indoctrination and involvement of children in warfare symbolizes a generational loss that extends beyond human casualties to include the environment. Child soldiers, often engaged in activities like deforestation and resource extraction, become unwitting contributors to the ecological imbalance caused by war. For example Birahima also narrate thus;

There was a second, a minute, of silence before the storm. And then the whole forest all around us started spitting, the tat-tat-tat tat-tat-tat tat-tat-tat of AK-47s. So when the tattat-tat of the kalashes started up, the birds in the forest could tell something wasn’t right, so they all took off and flew away towards more peaceful skies. The AK-47 tat-tat-tat sprays all over the motorbike and the guys on the motorbike, the driver and the other guy who was all faro on the back with his own kalash. (‘Faro’ isn’t in the Petit Robert, but it’s in the Glossary and it means ‘showing off’.)

So now the driver and the guy acting all faro were both dead. Absolutely, one hundred percent dead. But there’s still AK-47s going tat-tat-tat-ing! tat-tat-tating! And you could already see all the destruction all over the road—the burning motorbike and bodies all AK-47ed and all the blood, lots and lots of blood, the blood just never got tired of flowing. Faforo! All this just kept happening and happening, the sinister tat-tat-tat music kept going (‘Sinister’ means ‘serious, scary, terrifying’). (41)

From the above quotation, the narrator revealed a clear destabilization of the eco-environment by gun shots and even the killing of animals that constitute the ecosystem. The narrative seamlessly blurs the lines between human suffering and environmental degradation, emphasizing the inextricable connection between the two. Characters’ struggles for survival are intertwined with the state of the environment around them, highlighting the profound impact of armed conflict on both human and natural communities. The novel challenges readers to confront the ecological consequences that often linger unnoticed amidst the more immediate and visible human tragedies of war.

Allah is Not Obliged serves as a reflection of real-world instances of ecocide resulting from armed conflicts, particularly in Africa. While a work of fiction, the novel draws parallels to historical and contemporary situations where warfare has left a lasting imprint on the environment. Kourouma’s narrative urges readers to consider the broader implications of conflict, compelling them to recognize the urgency of addressing both human suffering and ecological devastation in discussions of conflict resolution and environmental sustainability.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged stands as a powerful testament to the far-reaching consequences of armed conflict on the environment. By incorporating the concept of ecocide into its narrative fabric, the novel challenges readers to contemplate the intricate connections between human actions, the plight of individuals caught in conflict, and the ecological integrity of the landscapes ravaged by war.

Allah is Not Obliged delves into various themes, including the dehumanizing effects of war, the loss of innocence, the complexities of power dynamics, and the struggle for survival in a chaotic world. Kourouma uses dark humor and satire to critique the senseless violence and exploitation that characterize conflicts in the region


The novel explores the theme of war. Much of the narrative is about the internal conflicts in two West African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The novel runs insightful commentary on the roles each active warlord played in the escalation of the crises, what they harp on to fuel the wars, and the concomitant effects of the war on the people.

The narrator, Birahima, goes in search of his aunt in one of the troubled countries, Sierra Leone, after the death of his mother. Before he could reach the subject of his quest, he finds himself entangled in the ongoing war and also becomes a child-soldier. The civil wars in both countries are fueled by power tussle, insensitivity and tribalism. The novel projects the destructive power of wars, the deaths, lawlessness, and the hobbesian chaos that accompanies wars. The novel casts insight into the exploitation, hunger, desecration of norms, and the mindless killings found in war situations. The novel apposes historical references alongside Birahima’s narrative. It spells out the involvement of historical references like Prince Johnson, Charles Taylor, Samuel Doe, Thomas Quionkpa, Johnny Koroma among others in the bloodletting wars. The conflicts of interest of a few individuals almost brought the two countries into ruination. Like elsewhere, the embers of the civil wars are fanned by ethnic prejudice, dominance, and suspicions.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

The atmosphere in the novel is tensed and there is a general instability in the novel. None of the warring parties have absolute control. Much often, power on who calls the shots switches hands just the same way Birahima and Yacouba susbsist on changing sides as they progress in their journey. The two wars are politically motivated. They are generally about who has what power — battles of political egos which cost everyone an arm and a leg. This political instability that pervades the novel inflects Yacouba’s and Birahima’s decision on who to align with, when, and how.

Religion Manipulation

A key feature of Allah is Not Obliged is religion manipulation. Characters manoeuvre round religion precepts to suit their own interests. Lies marketed on the platform of religion are easily acknowledged as truths. To start with Colonel Papa le Bon, he is a Western trained priest. Finding himself in a war-ravaged Sierra Leone, he stays to salvage the mess and propagate the Lord’s message. By choosing to stay, he kills, maims, sleeps with women, brandishes occult practices side by side with Christianity, and raises an army of potentially dangerous child-soldiers. That he does these under the aegis of Christianity impresses upon his followers a distorted view of the religion.

Prince Johnson of Liberia, as projected in the novel, is another example of a man who manipulates the precepts of religion to suit his interest. He claims to have had a prophecy from the Lord that no military leader should take over the rulership of the country. This, we find out, is just a ploy for him to stay relevant in the pursuit of power. He and his cohorts orchestrate the death of the equally vicious but somewhat repentant Samuel Doe.

Again, Johnson claims it is the Lord’s justice. He claims Doe is chief among the devil’s men when he is no way different in conduct and actions from Doe. Sadly, many of these double-faced self-styled religion warlords command a blind following who are intoxicated by the opium of religion their leaders feed them on. We see through these instances the vulnerability of religion in the manipulative arms of self-serving self-styled deputies of God.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Juvenile Corruption

A war situation is an ideal atmosphere for the orchestration of all forms of ills and vices and unthinkable acts. As we find out in the novel, war makes adults out of children. The sick children in such situation have to make adult decisions, fend for themselves, defend themselves and are vulnerable to exploitation. They find themselves indulging in all sorts of unthinkable acts; things that would alter the rest of their lives; that would haunt them for a long while.

War exposes child-soldiers like Birahima and Kik to killings and cannibalism. It corrupts their innocence forever and gives them a perverted worldview of things. In the case of Birahima, it exposes him to sexual exploitation. He writes of how Colonel Baclay’s wife, Rita Baclay, abuses him sexually:

and after i finished eating, she always asked me to take off my clothes. And i would. She would stroke my bangala gently, gently, and i’d get a hard-on like a donkey . . . . she would kiss my bangala over and over and then she’d swallow it, like a snake swallowing a rat. She used my bangala like a toothpick. (102)

Birahima, exploited here, finds the act pleasuring and is bound to grow into a sexual exploiter too like Rita Baclay and Colonel Papa le Bon. Balla, Bafitini’s healer and later Birahima’s step-father, has a negative influence on Birahima such that Birahima’s grandmother does not approve of the things Balla teaches Birahima. Birahima himself credits Balla for teaching him a lot of expletives: “all the stuff i bullshit about (‘bullshit’ means ‘to say stupid things’), i learned from balla” (90)

Birahima’s life as a street kid corrupts him further. So, Birahima leaves home for Sierra Leone someone whose childhood has been corrupted already. It is only natural in war circumstances he longs to be a child-soldier. War no doubt exposes children to tense situation whose adverse effects even adults have to grapple with.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Child-soldier Phenomenon

During the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, children are brought into the picture. Children are drafted into the different factions in the war. They are given guns, kalashes within the context of the novel, and donned in oversized military camouflages to kill. They are turned into war-machines causing destruction.

It is not as if they have a choice. It is the only way to survive. Birahima and several other kids in the novel typified the child soldiers who fought and died in the wars. Birahima has this to say in the opening chapter of the novel about what being a child soldier means: “i’ve been in liberia and killed lots of guys with an ak-47 (we called it a ‘kalash’) and got fucked-up on karif and lots of hard drugs” (89).

In another part of the same chapter, he writes:

and I killed lots of innocent victims over in Liberia and Sierra Leone where I was a child doing tribal warfare, and where I got fucked-up on lots of hard drugs. The Gnamas of the innocent people I killed are stalking me, so my whole life and everything round me is fucked.(106)

He insinuates from the above excerpt that child-soldiers are commissioned to kill. The survivors among them are forever haunted by the memories of their gory past. We also see in the second chapter of the text what becomes of the non-survivors, the war casualties: “Kik had stepped on a mine. It was a terrible sight. Kik was screaming like a suckling calf, like a stuck pig. He was screaming for his mum, for his dad, for all and everyone. His leg was in bloody shreds and hanging by a thread” (107)

The narrator goes further to describe the pitiable circumstances that surround each child-soldier’s story. Through his funeral orations of fallen child-soldiers, Birahima exposes why the children sometimes submit themselves for conscription. There is a particular excerpt that sums up the rationale behind their forced choices: “when you haven’t got no father, no mother, no brothers, no sisters, no aunts, no uncles, when you haven’t got nothing at all, the best thing to do is become a child-soldier. Being a child-soldier is for kids who’ve got fuck all left on earth or Allah’s Heaven” (150)

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged


The theme of cannibalism is graphically expressed in words in the text. Cannibalism is the act of eating another of one’s own species. Within the context of this novel, cannibalism entails the eating of humans by their fellow human beings for occult reasons. For the soldiers in Allah is Not Obliged, it is not enough to have staked human skulls as prized possessions. They also go extra length to drink human blood and eat human flesh — a repulsive act which for them reinforces their spiritual powers and fortifies them with strong bullet deflectors. Birahima describes this abnormality and the general conception of it in tribal wars:

In tribal wars, a little human meat is necessary. It makes the heart hard, very hard, and protects against bullets. The best protection against whistling bullets is probably a piece of human meat. For example, I, Tieffi never go to the front, never go to battle without a calabash (a bowl) of human blood. a calabash of human blood makes you strong, makes you fierce, makes you cruel, and protects you from whistling bullets.(145)

The above excerpt of course reflects not only Tieffi’s habitual practice. It measures how degenerated this society is. In the words of Wole Soyinka, “art should expose, reflect, and indeed magnify the decadence, rotted underbelly of a society that has lost its direction.” In Allah is Not Obliged is a decadent rotted society that has lost its direction and the humaneness that is the essence of every human being.

Samuel Doe’s decapitation by Prince Johnson and his henchmen projects the theme of cannibalism. Doe’s fingers are cut off and his heart is roasted into a kebab. One of Johnson’s men eats Doe’s flesh to “make himself look more cruel, more brutal, more barbarous and inhuman.” Even primordial humans would have conducted themselves better than the superstitious cannibals portrayed in this novel.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Distorted Fatalism

Wiktionary defines fatalism as “the doctrine that all events are subject to fate or inevitable necessity or determined in advance in such a way that human beings cannot change them.” In the history of literary analysis, there has been at one time or the other discourses on which of fatalism or free will takes precedence. Works like Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus beggars the question: “which of fate or free will decides what happens to humans?” The submission I align with is that there is the place of free will and the place of fatalism. It is in man’s inherent nature to choose between right and wrong, good or bad. The moment Doctor Faustus chooses to sell his soul to Lucifer for a paltry date with magic, his eternal damnation is already sealed.

In Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged, there is a wrong understanding of fatalism. This misconception is of course not unconnected with the characters’ will to absolve themselves of blames. Bafitini’s rotting leg is attributed as Allah’s doing. Kik’s death is ascribed to Allah. Killings and deaths in the novel are taken from the perspective of fate — that Allah fated them to be so. Looking beyond the veil of faith, one can conveniently say many of these tragic events are human-inspired. Human beings, not Allah, bring misery and hardship on their fellow human beings.

Bafitini’s condition, for example, is worsened by her ill-advised secret withdrawal from the hospital where the problematic leg is meant to be amputated. If that leg had been amputated, she wouldn’t have had to undergo the pain and smell she had to, or be a perpetual subject of minted myths, or have to watch her son become a street kid while she’s helpless to effect any change. Captain Kik’s mine accident is justified with “that’s how Allah decided he wanted poor Kik to end his days on earth” sentence.

This again is a distorted view of fatalism. Allah did not in any way start the civil wars. Man, in his lust for power and the fight to perpetuate himself in power, started this war. The tragic incidences in the novel are justified severally with the fact that Allah is not particularly fair about the things he does on earth. This is doctored to fit in with the Islamic precept that Allah’s system is particularly fair and strict in heaven but somewhat loose on earth and not necessarily fair. Heaven in this context is meant to be a reward for one’s deeds on earth: ones with good deeds are allotted spaces in the Paradise and the ones with bad deeds find their places in the Hell. This justification is found in the following excerpts:

“ . . . the Almighty up in heaven doesn’t give a shit and does whatever he wants, and he doesn’t have to be fair about everything he decides to do here on earth.”(159), “Allah is not obliged to be fair about everything, about all his creations, about all his actions here on earth.”(98) And “They died because that’s how Allah wanted things. And Allah is not obliged to be fair about everything he does.”(150)

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Language and Style in Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged is marked by a distinct language and style that significantly contribute to the novel’s immersive storytelling and thematic depth. Rooted in West African oral tradition, Kourouma adopts a narrative approach reminiscent of a griot’s storytelling, where the protagonist, Birahima, directly addresses the reader. This oral quality creates an intimate and engaging atmosphere, mirroring the richness of traditional African storytelling.

The novel embraces linguistic diversity, incorporating French, Bambara, and Malinke, reflecting the multicultural tapestry of West Africa. This multilingualism adds authenticity to the narrative, capturing the cultural intricacies and linguistic nuances of the region. The use of colloquial and street language further enhances authenticity, offering a raw and unfiltered portrayal of the characters, particularly the child soldiers. This linguistic choice bridges the gap between the reader and the characters, immersing the audience in the gritty reality of their lives.

Kourouma employs satire and irony as tools to convey the gravity of the novel’s themes. Humor becomes a coping mechanism within the narrative, creating a unique tone that oscillates between the tragic and the absurd. This blending of humor and tragedy serves as a poignant commentary on the absurdities of war, challenging readers to confront the harsh realities of conflict while finding moments of dark humor within the narrative.

The novel also utilizes a stream-of-consciousness narrative technique, particularly in Birahima’s inner monologues. This style provides insight into the psychological turmoil of a child soldier, offering a raw and unfiltered view of his thoughts, fears, and perceptions. The stream-of-consciousness technique intensifies the emotional impact of the storytelling, providing a unique window into the mind of the narrator.

Cultural references and symbolism are interwoven throughout the narrative, adding layers of meaning to the story. Traditional African proverbs, rituals, and symbolic elements enrich the novel’s cultural texture, serving as a bridge between the contemporary tale of Birahima and the broader cultural heritage of West Africa. These elements contribute depth to the exploration of themes such as identity, tradition, and the impact of conflict on a community’s cultural fabric.

In summary, Ahmadou Kourouma’s language and style in Allah is Not Obliged create a rich and multifaceted narrative. By drawing on oral traditions, incorporating multilingualism, utilizing colloquial language, and employing satirical elements, Kourouma weaves a tapestry that is both authentic and thought-provoking. The novel’s unique linguistic choices enhance its thematic resonance, making it a compelling exploration of the complexities of war, identity, and resilience in West Africa.

Summary and Analysis OF Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

 Characterisation in Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged

  • Birahima: The central character and narrator of the novel, Birahima, is a young boy forced into the life of a child soldier. His voice provides a firsthand account of the brutality of war, shedding light on the physical and psychological toll it takes on a child. Birahima’s journey serves as a lens through which readers witness the complexities of conflict and the struggle for survival in a war-torn region.
  • Yacouba Soriba: Yacouba is Birahima’s older cousin and the one who initiates him into the world of child soldiering. Yacouba’s character represents the moral ambiguity that often accompanies war, as he becomes both a perpetrator and a victim of the violence. His relationship with Birahima reflects the complexities of familial bonds in the context of conflict.
  • Mamoudou Kani Kala: An influential figure in the novel, Mamoudou is a warlord who commands a group of child soldiers, including Birahima. His character exemplifies the power dynamics and manipulation that occur within armed factions. Mamoudou’s presence underscores the exploitation of children as tools of war and the devastating impact of such manipulation on their lives.
  • Fanta: Fanta is Birahima’s mother, and her character symbolizes the maternal love and sacrifice that persist even in the face of war. Though her role is relatively brief in the narrative, Fanta’s presence emphasizes the human cost of conflict and the wrenching separations families endure.
  • Colonel Tieneba: Colonel Tieneba is a military leader whose actions shape the course of the novel. His character represents the broader institutional forces that drive conflict, and his decisions impact the lives of the child soldiers under his command.
  • The Black and the White Sheikh: These two characters serve as religious figures in the narrative, offering spiritual perspectives on the events unfolding. The Black Sheikh represents traditional African spirituality, while the White Sheikh embodies a more orthodox Islamic perspective. Their presence adds layers of cultural and religious complexity to the novel.
  • The Child Soldiers: Various child soldiers, including Khoudiemba and Ismael, populate the narrative, each with their own stories of loss, survival, and resilience. These characters collectively illustrate the tragic consequences of war on children, exploring themes of innocence lost and the indomitable spirit of youth amidst adversity.
  • Madame Arissa: Madame Arissa is a woman who helps Birahima along his journey. Her character introduces elements of compassion and humanity amid the chaos of war, offering a glimpse of the potential for kindness even in dire circumstances.

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