Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Somali Enclave, a Bittersweet Homecoming for Kenya's Prodigal Sons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Somali Enclave, a Bittersweet Homecoming for Kenya's Prodigal Sons

Article excerpt

By 4 p.m. each weekday at this parking lot in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, the cars clear out.

Volunteers lay down straw mats on the tarmac, and young men and women trickle in - sitting on separate sides - to listen to the daily teaching of Salim Ndenda, a local Islamic leader.

Here in the bustling neighborhood nicknamed Little Mogadishu for its large concentration of ethnic Somalis, Mr. Ndenda's daily message to more than 500 youths in attendance - often sent by their own families - is of singular importance. It is one that will help prevent young men from radicalizing, or even worse, joining the ranks of Al Shabab fighters.

"We have to do this to give the youth the right teachings," says Ndenda. "Wrong teachings may mean they end up in Somalia with Al Shabab."

The topic of radicalization is a sensitive issue here, especially with the stigma that Somali-Kenyan communities serve as breeding and recruitment grounds for the extremist group. Few are willing to talk, often citing that they just want to go about their day-to- day.

But after the Kenyan government decided to offer full amnesty in April to Kenyan Al Shabab members who wanted to come back, residents here have been debating how they will be able to welcome their prodigal sons home.

The amnesty, offered soon after Al Shabab militants massacred 148 students at Garissa University in April, has faced stiff resistance from the public. Rev. Peter Karanja, the influential head of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) said the move was a "betrayal to Kenyans."

So far, 200 men have returned to communities throughout the country, according to Interior Cabinet Minister Joseph Nkaissery. Dozens have made their way to Eastleigh, Ndenda says.

For the communities taking them in, there are mixed feelings. Happy to see their young men back, there are also valid concerns that it could be a chance for Al Shabab to recruit a fresh crop of fighters. But there is also general wariness over accepting sons who were once part of an organization that has carried more than 63 attacks against Kenya since 2013, and killed thousands in Somalia.

"These are people who have killed and fought in a war. The government needs to make it easy for the families to accept them," says Leila Ali, an Eastleigh shop owner.

Little informationWhen the amnesty offer was first announced, government officials said they were taking into consideration the social, psychological, spiritual, and religious aspects of the recruits and their communities as part of the deradicalization process.

What does this mean, practically? Few in Eastleigh know. And there are concerns over the dearth of information shared with them about the re-integration procedure, even though they are obligated to take back the recruits. …

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