The Symbolic Use of Bafitini’s Rotting Leg and the Oversized Military Uniform in “Allah is Not Obliged”

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Symbolism is the implicit representation of a person, idea, value, feelings, and concepts using symbols such as signs, shapes, or objects. In Allah is Not Obliged, there are just about two symbols which catch my attention.

One is Bafitini’s rotting ulcerous leg and the other is the oversized military uniform of child-soldiers. What do these two symbols idealise and represent?

Bafitini’s rotting ulcerous leg with all its smell symbolises a dystopian society that has lost its direction. It projects the dysfunction and the ignominious decline of some African countries.

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Like the infected leg, rather than face their problems head-on, these countries keep circumventing them, recycling the problems with ineffective solutions. Rather than take the obvious solution, they prolong the problems in the name of politics and on the basis that some people profit from the abnormal situation.

Her pervading nauseous smell is not different from the euromerican image of Africa as a poverty-stricken, crisis-ravaged continent with malnourished, kwashiorkor children with bloated stomach; the image of a continent perpetually in need of loans, reliefs, and humanitarian aids.

The oversized military uniform of the child-soldiers has much significance and hold on the interpretation of the novel. It symbolises a task or responsibility too big for children upon whom it is thrusted. The task of killing people indiscriminately is definitely not a thing children should be made to do even in extreme war situations. This again shows a society that has lost its moral compass and cares very little about the well-being of its children, its supposed future leaders.

The task overwhelms the children, drives them nuts, perhaps, towards psychological breakdown. The uniform fits the adults while the children fit out of place and underwhelmed by the enormous size, the import of an overwhelming responsibility. The children are pushed to do what even some adults would hesitate to do in such unpleasant circumstances.

These two symbols contribute to the overall understanding of the novel in terms of a dystopian society with lost moral and ethical compass, so dysfunctional that the children have to fight in the adults’ wars.

What other symbol(s) do you notice in Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged? Let me know in the comment section.

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