An insight into why some Somali youngsters join al-Shabaab


The following news items caused the writer to remember the reflections of a person who visited Somalia during the course of her work as a humanitarian capacity builder – pseudonym ‘Anne’.

Today Reuters records the reports by the Kenya Defence Forces that they destroyed a training camp used by the members of al-Shabaab (sometimes spelt al-Shabab) who claimed to have attacked the Westgate Mall on September 21st.

Drone strikes causing civilian deaths are said by James Fergusson, a journalist, the author of “The World’s Most Dangerous Place – Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia”, to be leading ‘whole villages in the areas attacked to go over to Al Shabaab’


The Wikipedia entry says that al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب‎), meaning “The Youth”, “The Youngsters” or “The Boys”, controls large swathes of the southern parts of the country,where it is said to have imposed a strict form of Sharia law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Many crimes committed by them are recorded in the entry and also some evidence of good thinking. Before the drought in 2010, Al-Shabaab controlled areas had their best crop yield in seven years. They said that their reduction of over-sized cheap food imports allowed Somalia’s own grain production to flourish, shifting income from urban to rural areas, from mid-income groups to low-income groups, and from overseas farmers to local farmers.

Anne wrote:

Al-Shabaab were originally a youth branch of Islamic Courts Union (fairly moderate) who threw out the corrupt warlords, but were then overthrown by US-backed Ethiopian forces and replaced with most corrupt Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).  A leaked UN report (see the website Somalia Report) shows 97% of international funds it received are unaccounted for…). This made Al-Shabaab more determined…

When I was in Mogadishu I spoke with some internally displaced youngsters.

Nobody wakes up and decides they want to be a terrorist when they grow up… in a country which is a total mess (and has been for over 20 yrs, i.e. majority of the people have no experience of ‘normal’ law and order, joining Al-Shabaab (‘the boys’) gives structure, purpose, direction, access to education (ok, so not UK private school level, but if alternative is no education…), an income…

In that situation, what would you choose?!


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