Sunday, January 21, 2018



As the book’s young narrator tells it, the full title of the book I read from the Côte d’Ivoire is “Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth.” Birahima should know – at the age of ten or twelve (his grandmother seems to think he’s two years younger than his mother told him he was), he is an orphan and has fought as a child-soldier for several different warlords.

He tells his story using the help of four different dictionaries that have come into his possession, and the book is peppered with the definitions of many of the words he uses. You would think this would be distracting, but it’s really not, especially when he chooses to define a term in his own words. For example, he describes “humanitarian peacekeeping” as being when “one country is allowed to send soldiers into another country to kill innocent victims in their own country, in their own villages, in their own huts, sitting on their own mats.”

Birahima’s life as a child-soldier begins after his mother dies and it is decided that he should go live with his aunt in the neighboring country of Liberia, accompanied by a local businessman. They don’t get too far into Liberia before they are captured by a contingent loyal to one of Liberia’s major warlords, and Birahima is pressed into service. While the concept of child-soldiers may be horrifying to most of us, the prospect didn’t seem to trouble Birahima. As he says at one point in the book, “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 f*ck all left on earth or Allah’s heaven.”

Throughout the book, various misadventures lead to Birahima leaving warlord after warlord, only to be captured and put to work by someone else. He never stops trying to find his aunt, however.

Most of the book’s action doesn’t take place in Côte d’Ivoire, but in Liberia. There is also a segment in which Birahima travels to Sierra Leone. In addition to the interactions between the people and the governments of the various countries, the book discusses the tensions between the "Afro-American colonialists" in Liberia and the various groups of indigenous people.

The best thing about Allah Is Not Obliged is its very engaging narrator. Birahima is tough, profane, precocious, and thoroughly likeable. He is very much the hero of his own story, describing himself throughout as “the blameless, fearless street kid, the child-soldier.” He’s a character I’ll remember for a long time.


Getting enough food to eat is a problem for Birahima at various times throughout the book, and the child-soldiers always talk amongst themselves about which warlords are able to offer all the food they can eat. It’s probably no surprise, then, that I didn’t find anything in the book that would be appropriate to prepare for this blog. In an Internet search, I found a recipe for an Ivorian chilled avocado soup on the Genius Kitchen website. It was ridiculously easy to make, and it was very good. I’ll have to try to remember to make it again when the weather heats up.


No projects were listed for Côte d’Ivoire on the GlobalGiving website, but a quick Internet search turned up a nonprofit organization called Ivory Coast Mothers and Children. This group “works in partnership with The Patricia Nau Clinic, a community-based maternal health clinic located in the village of Braffoueby, Cote d’Ivoire. Through funding and capacity building support, we are building healthier communities by advancing quality medical care for safe births and access to disease treatment and prevention, especially for mothers, newborns, and children under five.” This is particularly important in Côte d’Ivoire, a country with one of the highest infant and under-five mortality rates in the world. More information about Ivory Coast Mothers and Children is available at



  1. Fascinating look at Cote D'Ivoire. I'm looking forward to your Croatia post.

  2. i can't wait to read your book about the Ivory Coast and shining a light on the suffering of children and families in a country where government gives little support for education, sanitation and health that we all take for granted. And thank you for the shout out about our clinic in Braffoueby that has been open since 2013. Women now have a safe place to give birth with professionally trained staff and all people can now receive treatment for diseases thanks to to our new lab and pharmacy and excellent staff. Patricia Mertz

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Patricia, and thank you for all you and the clinic do to help the women and children in the Ivory Coast.