This week, al-Shabaab held a ceremony to celebrate the opening of al-Amal Center–a new facility allegedly for neglected children in the group’s stronghold of Barawe, Lower Shabelle.
The group’s Lower Shabelle governor Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdalla stated that the objective of the center was to “rehabilitate” neglected children, provide religious education to those who had strayed away, and to show the youth how they can “join the war” with al-Shabaab rather than fall victim to “evils” originating in Mogadishu.
Though al-Shabaab implements social welfare programs throughout the territories it controls, Barawe is often the focus of the group’s public messaging promoting its social services–including “fun days” for kids.
In spite of al-Shabaab’s local indoctrination efforts, many young men continue to defect from the group due to low pay, fear of being killed by fellow members, or disenchantment with the group’s killing of civilians and religious leaders.
In this context, it would be easy to see how the Somali government could exploit these narratives to encourage youth to abandon violence and possibly register in one of several internationally-funded “rehabilitation” facilities in Baidoa, Kismayo, Mogadishu, and Beledweyne where ex-fighters are receiving steady meals, education, and some degree of life skills.
But in running with these messages, local administrations run the risk of further disappointing and alienating youth if funding shortages or operational failures prohibit defecting youth from receiving advertised benefits.
Such a circumstance has already been seen throughout the tenure of the much hailed Go2School program, where failure to pay teachers, insufficient electricity in schools, and other problems have resulted in protests and stoppages of an initiative meant to enroll one million new children in the first year.
As the Somali National Army (SNA) and AMISOM make plans to liberate more towns from al-Shabaab, one of the many key issues will continue to be whether new administrations can fulfill their promises that liberation will lead to a better life for local communities.
Related recent pieces: