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July 14, 2022

Deplorable living conditions in Al Shabaab camps

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The Al Shabaab militant group has often bragged on social media spaces about the luxurious life they live at the camps. Unfortunately, the lavish lifestyle they portray has lured young people into joining the group. Some of these young men have been able to escape the group and surrendered to AMISOM and SNA forces in Somalia.

It is with tears that Abdirahim*(not his real name) narrates his tale of horror inside the Al Shabaab camp. A journey that started as a 3-month job opportunity in Lamu turned to be recruitment into the Al Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia. As a young energetic person, Abdirahim was looking for a way to pay for his university education. His story is one of many that Al Shabaab returnees tell once they escape the group.

According to Abdirahim, he was dupped into recruitment when looking for a job which landed him in an Al Shabaab training camp in Somalia. He describes the living conditions of Al Shabaab militants inside the camp. First, he says that inside the camp, they are forced to dig shallow holes in the ground where they spent their nights. Many of the militants preferred to share their ‘beds’ to retain heat and warmth through the night. Only the leaders got to sleep in tents as well as enjoy large food portions.

“At the camp, we only got to have one meal in a day which was after all the leaders had their fill,” says Abdirahim. He continues to say that food rationing especially during the dry seasons killed many militants. But he explains that he was only lucky to survive because he would often get food from locals as they collected ‘taxes.’ “I befriended a local family which would give me food portions anytime I went into their village. I would save those portions and eat them inside the camp while the other militants slept.”

It was by sheer luck that he was able to escape from the group. “One day we were preparing an attack on a food aid truck going to Hoosingo village in the Lower Jubba region. I took off in the dead of the night and headed in the direction of the village” Abdirahim says. He met with locals in the village who helped him warn the aid workers about the impending attack. This was when he was rescued and taken in by SNA forces for questioning.

The Al Shabaab militant group often uses social media to lure young people to join their ranks. They show a glamorous lifestyle with fake luxuries as a reward for joining the group. But the harsh reality is that Al Shabaab militants live in poor inhabitable conditions. Food and shelter in the group is rare and scarce for foot soldiers that make up the majority of the groups. Hundreds of the militants who join the Al Shabaab ranks die within the first three months of joining the group. They are tortured and go days without food or drink which is spared for the leaders. Returnees are telling the realities of the AlShabaab militant group. Their testimonies and experiences have revealed the realities inside the group.

The plain truth is that Al Shabaab only exploits and abuses young people so that they remain relevant in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region. There are no financial gains as often promised and the only guarantee that one has is that they will die inside the AlShabaab.