NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) – In Kenya’s coastal region, interfaith efforts to slow or end recruitment of young people into militant Islamist group al-Shabab advance, with some recruits abandoning extremist group’s training grounds in the south from Somalia to return home.
The group – al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa – had stepped up secret recruitments in coastal and northeastern regions since 2011, when the East African nation’s army entered southern Africa. Somalia. Radicalized youth, many under 30, have often been sent across the border for jihadist training.
But now activity has slowed down, in part because of the efforts of interfaith groups. More than 300 of these young people who had traveled to Somalia to undergo jihadist training had been rescued and brought back to the country.
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Reports attributed to security officials last week indicated that young people would be vetted and de-radicalized before being reintegrated into their communities.
Shamsa Abubakar Fadhili, president of the Mombasa Women of Faith Network, a branch of the Kenya Interfaith Council, led interfaith efforts to resettle returning former activists. The Kenya Interfaith Council brings together Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.
âWe have to bring them back to the communities,â Fadhili said. âWe use young people to find others who have been taken away and try to change them. Some have criminal records or pending court cases. “
âI applaud the efforts. Something is happening and I think there is hope that those who have been recruited into the activism can be saved, âsaid retired Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa, who is involved in the efforts. peace in the coastal region.
Although recruitment has slowed, thousands of Kenyans are still fighting alongside Al-Shabab. In 2015, the government announced an amnesty for those who had joined the group. Some of the recruits have returned home, but human rights organizations have raised concerns about the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the returnees.
Clerics familiar with the subject described the efforts as a balancing act, using faith to fight desperation, marginalization and unemployment while working with government authorities. “It’s a tricky question, but I think what we need now are closer collaborations, even with security agencies,” Kalu said.
According to Reverend Stephen Anyenda, a Baptist who is the executive director of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics, young people are recruited through a gradual process in which recruiters offer incentives and make promises until the target youth gains confidence. total.
âMany of them are unemployed, so they are vulnerable to recruitment. They see little meaning in life. They also feel intimidated by society and start engaging in unhealthy activities, sometimes due to peer pressure, âAnyenda said. “Recruiters targeting young people can offer cash for a new lifestyle or even help families start small businesses.”
According to Fadhili, many young people do not have spiritual food and are therefore sensitive to radical political ideas.
However, said Fadhili, “A lot of them are eager to change, so we stick with them.” She said she recently rescued 12 young people who had already started their journey to Somalia to join al-Shabab.
Fadhili has helped young people start small businesses, giving them seed capital so that they can improve themselves and avoid the lure of crime.
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According to Fadhili, the work has also reduced crime by 45% in the most dangerous areas of the city of Mombasa, in addition to helping to slow al-Shabab recruitments.
At the same time, she fears that limited resources will force her to stop, and she fears the worst when that happens. “I am afraid that the young people are backing down,” Fadhili said.