The Centre for Community Dialogue (CCD) on October 19th launched their awareness campaigned aimed at eliminating al-Shabaab’s extremist ideology from recently liberated areas of Somalia. CCD director Iise Ahmed Omar (left) said at the event
MOGADISHU — Somali civil society organisations and religious leaders have joined together to create an awareness campaign aimed at combating extremist ideology in areas liberated from al-Shabaab.
Mogadishu-based Centre for Community Dialogue (CCD), religious leaders from Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, Benadir Women’s Association and Benadir Youth Organisation jointly developed the plan, which the CCD is facilitating.
The campaign will comprise a series of one-day workshop styled meetings held throughout the country starting with Barawe in January, CCD director Iise Ahmed Omar told Sabahi.
In the meantime, he said, the organisations have been meeting to discuss past achievements, topics to address in the awareness campaign and the logistics of implementing the new initiative.
Six individuals drawn from traditional elders, women’s organisations and other local groups will be selected in each town to lead and moderate the meetings.
“We are preparing six issues to [focus on],” Omar said. “Attendees will be broken into groups of ten to brainstorm and come up with ways to take action on those issues. [Each group] will then present their plans to the rest of the attendees.”
“It is not going to be like a speech people listen to and then leave,” he said, adding that the goal is to engage the public, raise awareness about the dangers of extremism and determine solutions on how to fight extremist ideology at a local level.
The purpose is to leave attendees feeling energised and motivated to share their knowledge with the rest of society once they leave the meeting, he said.
A united front to reverse extremist ideology
“The government demonstrated force, particularly with Operation Indian Ocean, in removing al-Shabaab from the country,” Omar said. “As an organisation, we want to [demonstrate force] to remove the extremist ideology al-Shabaab left behind.”
While the military operation, a joint effort between African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government troops, is succeeding in liberating many areas from al-Shabaab, it will take a long time to eradicate the militant group’s flawed ideology, he said.
“Over the past six years we dared to warn the public about extremist ideology [and] we believe that today, after al-Shabaab’s defeat, we have a greater opportunity to reach towns where they had strong influence such as Barawe and Bulo Burde,” he said.
“What we want is [to show] a united front to the young person who has been brainwashed,” Omar said. “Everywhere he goes, the well-educated religious scholars should tell him, ‘If you blow yourself up, you are going to hell’, the traditional elder should tell him, ‘Suicide bombing is not part of our culture’ and his mother should say, ‘Do not blow yourself up.'”
“We would also bring in youth to educate the young people who have been misled and have been told that extremist ideology is correct,” he added.
“Every area that Somalia’s enemy is pushed out of is in need of [counter-extremism] awareness programmes in the same way it needs emergency humanitarian aid,” he said. “We will reach these areas liberated from al-Shabaab to carry out our awareness programmes while working with our Somali government.”
The campaign — which was announced during a meeting in Mogadishu on October 19th — has received funding from private business owners and the Somali diaspora, Omar said, declining to disclose the amount received.
Religious leaders, women and youth play key role
Another key goal of the campaign is to help citizens who had been isolated in former al-Shabaab strongholds to reconnect with the rest of the country by encouraging cross-regional dialogue, Omar said.
In areas under al-Shabaab control, the militant group routinely imposed bans on radio and television, use of the internet and mobile phones, and monitored citizens’ movement in order to control and filter information.
Al-Shabaab also used the pretext of religion to unlawfully tax residents and steal their livestock.
But Sheikh Abdulqadir Mohamed Somow, spokesperson for the Supreme Council of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa scholars, said Islam directs its followers to disavow extremist ideology.
“Everywhere around the country that was liberated from al-Shabaab needs the provision of medicine, food and clean water, [but] has an even greater need for changing the minds of the people who endured [years] of brainwashing that has allowed an individual to be convinced to kill his mother or father or relatives and blow himself up,” he told Sabahi. “We want to take part in combatting that cancerous ideology that has spread.”
For her part, Jawahir Barqab, director of the Benadir Women’s Association, said that women can play a major role in cleansing the minds of youth brainwashed with extremist ideology.
“When we as women realised that we could play a big role in fighting al-Shabaab’s extremist ideology, we decided to step up to our role,” she told Sabahi. “We are grateful to the people who encouraged us to persist with our goals, whether it is the businesspeople or the diaspora, [and] especially the CCD.”
Benadir Youth Organisation deputy chairman Hassan Sheikh Abdi Abukar said his organisation has always sought to protect youth against adopting flawed ideology, and will now play a significant role in raising awareness on this issue.
“Our role is to educate the youth about flawed extremist ideology, especially those who still have extremist views and are part of al-Shabaab, by conducting major awareness events,” he said, adding that the new awareness campaign seeks to connect all the youth of Somalia.