Every Friday at 10 am on Shabab’s Mogadishu-based Radio Quran, a children’s program is on the air. The children of mixed gender- aged between 4 and 10- are told a story, given a question to answer (mostly about religious issues), and allowed to greet whoever they want on air.
After answering the question, the children are expected to greet their parents, friends, Abu Zubayr ( Emir of Al-Shabab), Usama bin laden, and any other local Hero. After the salutations, the children are asked what they would want to become when they grow up. Few say Doctors or Teachers. The overwhelming majority of the children who call the show say they want to be Mujahideen- Holy Warriors.
It doesn’t end there. When the children are asked to name who they want to kill they mostly reply that they want to kill Sharif ‘Murtad’ (the President. Murtad means apostate), Bahuku Benale ( The AMISOM spokesman. Benale is Somali for Liar), Abdullahi Yusuf (the former president), and Bashir Rage (one of the warlords who fought the ICU).
One wonders how unforgiving these Little Holy Warriors are. Abdullahi Yusuf is no longer president, and Bashir Rage is no longer involved in the fighting. This just shows how the parents are the ones who tell their children to say what they say. There is no way an 8-year-old knows who is who in Politics unless he has help at home.
Some of the children say they have Anashid (songs without music) that they want to air, and are given the chance to do that. On one Friday, I heard a boy of no more than that 10 sing the equivalent of “We are coming, we are coming. To Nairobi we are coming. We are coming, we are coming. To Kampala we are coming. We are coming, we are coming. To Washington we are coming” in Arabic. What surprised me more than the actual words, was that the Nashid did sound kind of Original. Imagine, a 10-year old Jihadi-wannabe making original war songs!
On Public Holidays, children are encouraged to dress in the Shabab fashion and are given toy guns by their parents. You have probably seen them on Eid, brandishing their China-made toy guns as they stand side by side with their role models.
When the children play fighting games, they fight in two groups. The losing side is always labeled as ‘Murtaddeen’ (apostates) and chased around by their victorious rivals. This is not probably Shabab sanctioned but it shows the general environment in which children grow up. Shabab are seen as something glamorous and cool by little children, and by the time they are 15 they join them with or without their parents’ permission.
This indoctrination of the children at such an early age allows shabab to have a steady stream of recruits, and have the seeds laid for the future. And it seems the future Shabab will be more extreme, if the Radio Quran children’s show is any indication of how the next generation of Shabab will be in the next 10 years.
This is not to say that just because Shabab indoctrinates children that they are the only ones using children as soldiers. The TFG uses almost as many Child Soldiers as the Shabab does. The difference is that the TFG recognises international treaties prohibiting using children as soldiers.
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