Former child soldiers at the heart of North Eastern conflict now rehabilitated

A member of Wathajir youth group displaying his business skill. [Photo: Abjata Khalif]
A member of Wathajir youth group displaying his business skill. [Photo: Abjata Khalif]

Raging conflict between clans in northern Kenya town of Garissa has been blamed on long standing communal animosity caused by a spectrum of causes like political incitements, clan rivalry and border disputes as well as community investing in militias and availability of small arms and light weapons sourced from lawless Somalia bordering the region.

One of the key players fuelling and staging bloody conflict in the region and between communities are the well trained clan youths armed with sophisticated assault weapons and given community blessings to wreak havoc and causing maximum damage to their clan nemesis. They have reinvented a cycle of violent armed conflict and reprisal attacks.

Such cycle of conflict contributes to humanitarian catastrophe with thousands of women being attacked, maimed, raped and killed while traditional houses made of sticks and plastered with cow dung set on fire. The actions leaves behind desperate vulnerable groups like women, elderly and children who have survived such attack displaced with no decent shelter and treatment.

Raging conflict

Garissa County, a semi-arid regional capital of Northern Kenya has experienced internecine conflicts between two clans and a series of other insecurity incidents like terrorism. The worst inter-clan warfare was fought from 1992 to 1995 and thereafter a series of recurrent attacks and reprisals attacks have been witnessed between the two clans.

The long standing clan rivalry on communal border coupled with political instigation ignited recent inter clan strife in some parts of far flung Garissa villages with armed youths from each clan taking arms against the other and outdoing one another over supremacy battle. The local county and national Government officials in the Garissa County have been caught in the middle for failing to draw clan boundary.

Such dilemma with county and national government officials on reviewing and drawing clan boundary is caused by fear that such a move will ignite more clans to come up with new claims on clan and community boundary. The impact will be the possibility of igniting large scale border claims by clans living in other counties of Wajir and Mandera and its ramification felt in all pastoralist areas of Kenya.

Amran Abdundi, Executive Director of Frontier Indigenous Network, a women’s right organisation operating in northern Kenya says that the both level of governments have resorted to deal with the issue differently by ordering clans to live together harmoniously. They have also established village peace committees which deal with contentious issues like pasture zones, watering points and even village leadership.

“Re-drawing clan and communal border and giving one clan rights to own certain area at expense of their nemesis will result to more animosity and conflict and the government units in the region have taken upon themselves to ease tension and stamping authority,” confers Abdundi.

She explains: “This has been done by ordering all clans to live together as every Kenyan has right to live anywhere. At least that solves part of the problem but it’s not real solution as conflicts between clans on border claims normally occur and recur.’’

However hundreds of youths who participated in various inter-clan attacks paint a horrible picture of their involvement in the conflict between clans. They describe their role in making the county ungovernable through a series of attacks, abductions, village torching. They also lay claim to attacking vulnerable groups like women and children as well as staging cross border attacks along the busy northern Kenya and targeting vehicles belonging to their clan nemesis.

Abdi Abdullahi, a member of Wathajir youth group prepare water way to irrigate bananas. [Picture: Abjata Khalif]

Abdi Abdullahi, a member of Wathajir youth group prepare water way to irrigate bananas. [Picture: Abjata Khalif]

Abdi Abdullahi, who is in his mid-30s, narrates to Reject Newspaper how together with other youth from his clan they received training and cache of weapons. He says they were given an area to operate from where they were charged with responsibility to humiliate and attack their clan rivals.

“I regret what I did for many years in the conflict field and the key motivation which made me to participate in such heinous acts is my clan calling and blessing me and others with the belief of defending our clans and stopping outsiders from occupying our lands and snatching political power in our village,’’ avers Abdi who played a key role in fighting various inter clan wars.

Abdi’s journey saw him get into field of clan child soldiers participating in various attacks. They were recruited with other clan youths to leave livestock rearing or education into joining clan militias to protect their community.

“I remember women in our village singing war songs asking men to rise up against our clan rivals,” says Abdi. He adds: “Young girls also joined the fray by singing and asking ‘where are our brave youth or have they all vanquished?’,” Abdi says during an interview with the Reject.

He notes: “Such a scenario is tempting and challenging and I decided to jump up in and mobilise other youths. We offered ourselves for good of our communal border and community.’’

Militia Outfit

Abdi, the key ring leader behind youth recruitment and mobilization into the clan militia outfit regrets having brought on board 3,000 youth from his clan. They received modern armed training from their clansmen who had retired from Kenyan security services and taking the rival head on.

“I regret mobilising 3,000 youth and motivating them to take armed training and doing bad things to our clan rivals in various villages,” says Abdi.

“I don’t want to remember what I did with within the militia groups as we were young and brainwashed to join such bad outfits by communal pressure and women singing war songs,’’  says Abdi regrettably during the interview.

However Abdi has taken upon himself and his militia group to address their past heinous acts by reaching to various households of their clan rival and asking for forgiveness. They are now mobilising themselves into participating in local communal work like cleaning water pans and watering points for livestock from all clans. They are also engaged in income generating activities with his former clan rivals as way of cementing a relationship of mutual trust.

Recently, the former militia members led by Abdi received a business entrepreneurship training from Business Development Skills Training offered by a United States based Global Philanthropy Alliance. The organisation offered the youth group various tailored training on conflict resolution and community integration as well as bonding and entrepreneurship skills which they used to start a farming project along Tana River area.

Abdi explains: “My current group is called Wathajir, a Somali term meaning togetherness and we sell produce like banana, onions, tomatoes, water melons and pawpaw to local markets in northern Kenya.”

“We earn good money unlike when I was young killing people and causing untold suffering. I wish I received such training and skills before joining clan child soldier,” says Abdi. He notes: “I do not regret what I am doing now because my group lives harmoniously and in the spirit of togetherness’ with everybody including our former victims and their clan.”

 

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