We the Young Fighters
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We the Young Fighters

Pop Culture, Terror, and War in Sierra Leone

Title Details

Pages: 488

Illustrations: 19 b&w images

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 10/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6474-2

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 10/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6476-6

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 10/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6475-9

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 10/01/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6473-5

List Price: $114.95

We the Young Fighters

Pop Culture, Terror, and War in Sierra Leone

How Tupac, Rambo, and Bob Marley wove their way into the conflict fabric of Sierra Leone

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We the Young Fighters is at once a history of a nation, the story of a war, and the saga of downtrodden young people and three pop culture superstars. Reggae idol Bob Marley, rap legend Tupac Shakur, and the John Rambo movie character all portrayed an upside-down world, where those in the right are blamed while the powerful attack them. Their collective example found fertile ground in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, where youth were entrapped, inequality was blatant, and dissent was impossible.

When warfare spotlighting diamonds, marijuana, and extreme terror began in 1991, military leaders exploited the trio’s transcendent power over their young fighters and captives. Once the war expired, youth again turned to Marley for inspiration and Tupac for friendship.

Thoroughly researched and accessibly written, We the Young Fighters probes terror-based warfare and how Tupac, Rambo, and—especially—Bob Marley wove their way into the fabric of alienation, resistance, and hope in Sierra Leone. The tale of pop culture heroes radicalizing warfare and shaping peacetime underscores the need to engage with alienated youth and reform predatory governments. The book ends with a framework for customizing the international response to these twin challenges.

This book will have a place on our planet. Tupac, Bob Marley, and Rambo had a huge influence on young people, whether or not they were soldiers. Whoever reads this book will never be the same.

—Emmanuel Jal, recording artist, actor, peace activist, and author of War Child: A Child Soldier's Story

A palpable reminder of how the restless youth of Sierra Leone and many other parts of Africa can refashion global popular culture to challenge state repression. The call for a meaningful and transformative response to this governance challenge remains urgent and relevant.

—Ismail Rashid, history professor, Vassar College

Sierra Leone’s civil war has often generated more heat than light, with shock at reports of gang rape, amputation, and drug-fueled viciousness drowning out analysis. In this remarkable account, Sommers resists sensationalism and skirts stereotype, retaining compassion for those swept up in the horror. By focusing on three Western icons who served as inspirational role models for the youngsters who perpetrated the worst of the violence—Rambo, Marley, and Tupac—he gets under the skin of Sierra Leone’s dysfunctional society and conflict dynamics in a way few have equaled.

—Michela Wrong, author of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

This is an unexpected, revelatory, and powerful book. It brings together a deep knowledge of the African continent, the conditions that produce war, and a deep commitment to relating experience of the civil war in Sierra Leone by those who experienced it firsthand. It forces the reader to grapple with hard truths about the export of violence through music and entertainment. It requires the reader to grapple with the complexities of youth alienation and violence. It requires us to look for the unexpected. Once I started to read We the Young Fighters, I could not put it down.

—Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Regents Professor University of Minnesota Law School, UN Special Rapporteur Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights

A great book. Sommers has written an enthralling cultural history of civil war in Sierra Leone, focusing on the young fighters and how they draw upon transatlantic popular culture to make sense of the world and their exclusion from its circuits of power. He allows us to make sense of the carnival of violence unleashed as a resistance script of modernity and challenges politicians and development practitioners to take young people seriously.

—Alex de Waal, executive director, World Peace Foundation; research professor, the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and author of The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War, and the Business of Power

We the Young Fighters is a compelling story of what drove violent conflict in Sierra Leone, weaving in how drugs and pop culture helped sustain terror practices during the war. The book focuses on the significance of national governance and how states can alienate their expanding youth populations and increase prospects for violence and conflict. It illuminates the lessons we still need to learn from Sierra Leone’s conflict, including the critical need to broaden diplomacy and security reforms. Most important, this book highlights how to harness the energy of youth for building sustainable peace.

—Elizabeth (Liz) Hume, executive director, Alliance for Peacebuilding

We the Young Fighters is published just over twenty years after the end of the vicious Sierra Leone civil war. Marc Sommers eloquently reexamines the drivers of the conflict, focusing on alienated female and male youth and pop culture. Sommers employs an instructive perspective, treating states as adversaries and charting how some youths are radicalized, recruited, and mobilized into armed groups. This book seeks to provide learning for mitigating contemporary African conflicts. A must-read for scholars, policy makers, and humanitarian workers.

—Alex Vines OBE, director, Africa Programme, Chatham House, and assistant professor, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University

Recognizing the importance of music and cinema in young people’s lives, this riveting book illuminates the world of Sierra Leonean youth during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Sommers deftly shows how youth were moved by popular culture and appropriated it in seeking justice and social transformation. The lyrics of Marley and Tupac, together with the images of Rambo, inspired marginalized youth to become child soldiers who dreamt of social equity yet were also capable of horrific atrocities. I hugely enjoyed reading We the Young Fighters. It's a gem.

—Michael Wessells, professor, Program on Forced Migration and Health, Columbia University, author of Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection

Strongly informed by many interviews, this rich and interesting book shines a light on musical and cinematic influences in Sierra Leone’s war. It shows, for example, how Tupac Shakur’s music was important to a variety of rebel and rogue soldier groups, and how his music—in songs such as 'Only God Can Judge Me'—were used by abusive groups to motivate and legitimize their attacks.

—David Keen, professor of conflict studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, author of Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone

Marc Sommers’s insightful book takes young Sierra Leoneans’ perspectives, frustrations, and desires for dignity seriously. In doing so, this work not only deepens our understanding of Sierra Leone’s devastating civil war but also points the way toward a greater appreciation for the powerful intersection of pop culture and political action that is only growing more complex and important in the digital age.

—Michelle Gavin, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and former U.S. ambassador to Botswana

In We the Young Fighters, Marc Sommers offers an important intervention on the influence of cultural production across contexts, particularly in war-affected zones where narratives of resistance and freedom are all too easily understood in binaries. Sommers's carefully woven stories of how international pop culture became an instrument of youth resistance, violence, and post-war adaptation in Sierra Leone are compelling. We the Young Fighters is a must-read for those seeking to understand the complex dynamics of youth involvement in armed conflict.

—'Funmi Olonisakin, vice president (international, engagement, and service) and professor of security, leadership, and development, King’s College London, author of Peacekeeping in Sierra Leone: The Story of UNAMSIL

The mix of history, continuing ramifications of the war, and the framework for use in future unstable states makes We the Young Fighters an appealing read for scholars, diplomats, history buffs, and pop culture enthusiasts.

—Robin Holzhauer, The Foreign Service Journal


Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Award

About the Author/Editor

MARC SOMMERS is the award-winning author of ten books, including The Outcast Majority: War, Development, and Youth in Africa and Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood (both Georgia). His career has blended peacebuilding and diplomacy with field research and teaching. He uses trust-based methods to address challenges involving youth, conflict, education, gender, systemic exclusion, and violent extremism.