Al-Shabaab is an insurgent and militant group based mainly in Somalia. It has close relations with Al-Qaeda. For more than a decade now, al-Shabaab and the Somali government have been fighting in the Somali Civil War. Al-Shabaab’s terror reign in Somalia needs to end by combatting the economic instability and poverty that allow it to continue.
Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006 as a splinter group of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had taken control of Mogadishu and de facto control of Somalia from the Somalia government. In response, the Somali government backed an Ethiopian invasion that defeated the ICU. The Somali people’s resentment of the Ethiopian invasion and the ICU defeat led to an opening for al-Shabaab and its terror reign in Somalia.
By 2008, al-Shabaab took control of southern Somalia and gained dominance by seizing multiple territories throughout the country. In 2012, al-Shabaab officially aligned itself with Al-Qaeda and became Al-Qaeda’s representative in East Africa.
Poverty Leads to Recruitment and Abduction
A lack of economic stability drives terrorism in Somalia. Al-Shabaab capitalizes on the fact that poverty, unfortunately, aids the recruitment of militant groups. Since about 67% of Somali youth are unemployed, many young men join militant and insurgent groups like al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab provides a monthly salary that exceeds the average Somali per capita annual income of $400. Teenagers that are 14 years old and younger are al-Shabaab recruits. In fact, 70% of al-Shabaab’s recruits are under the age of 24 and the median age for recruits is 17.
In addition to this, children between the ages of nine to 15 have been forcibly recruited into al-Shabaab. Since 2017, al-Shabaab has abducted children, predominantly from pastoral and rural areas, to be frontline fighters. Al-Shabaab also forced Islamic teachers and elders in Somalia to recruit children from school and arm them with military-grade weapons.
Famine and Drought Displacement Led to Al-Shabaab’s Recruitment
The Somali government’s lack of response to famine and drought has also allowed al-Shabaab to exploit poverty in Somalia. In May 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the 2.97 million Somalis displaced due to drought, violence and food shortages led to extreme overcrowding in refugee camps. Refugee camps are often used as hunting and recruiting grounds for terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab since they are remote and far away from authorities like police officers.
Support from the United States and the International Rescue Committee (IRC)
After President Trump withdrew all military support from Somalia, in May 2022, President Biden redeployed special forces into the country to help assist the Somali government in its war against al-Shabaab. He also approved a Pentagon request to target specific al-Shabaab leaders as part of the counterterrorism strategy.
In addition to the renewed United States support in the fight against Al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one organization that is currently helping Somalis get back on their feet economically from the effects of war, drought and food shortages. Since 1981, Somalia’s been receiving aid from the IRC which supports 280,000 Somalis annually.
Since drought is a huge issue, the IRC launched the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia to help educate families about disaster preparedness and financial resilience. These IRC programs mainly target female-led households so that females can learn how to build financial resilience during catastrophes, especially droughts. More than 1,400 Somali families received emergency cash for basic needs from the IRC. The organization has also provided business start-up grants and entrepreneurship training.
If Somalia cannot resolve its economic instability, al-Shabaab probably cannot be successfully defeated. Severe poverty is one of the primary reasons why so many young men join al-Shabaab. Joining an insurgent group should never have to be in any child’s future. Children in Somalia deserve better. They deserve a stronger and safer future where al-Shabaab no longer exists and economic instability is no longer a problem for their nation. The support from the U.S. and the IRC should help put Somalia in a better position to combat both poverty and al-Shabaab’s terror reign.
– Yonina Anglin