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I wake up screaming!’ – Former Somalia child soldiers cry for help
- Written by ibro

Hassan Ghedi Santur , a Somali‐Canadian journalist, novelist, and the author of “Maps of Exile,” a nonfiction account of African migration to Europe writes  that in order to start a healthy nation onto a healthy course of peace and development, political and development leaders, together with the rest of the nation, ought to start from the grassroots. In this article ‘Reporter’s Diary: Heal Somalia’s former child soldiers, heal a nation’, Santur argues that healing the trauma of former soldiers and leading them back to society as a fully confident peace-builder is one of several ways to build a fully-healed, healthier Somalia.


Even by Mogadishu standards, late September was particularly violent!

Amino Hussein Hassan, a female law student, was shot dead on her university campus. Yahye Amir, a prominent economics professor and political analyst, escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb strapped to his car exploded, killing his brother. And Ahmed Mukhtar Salah from the minority Bantu ethnic group was beaten and burnt to death by a mob after his nephew married a woman from an “inferior” clan.

Violence has been a way of life in Somalia since the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, seeping deep into the nation’s marrow as clan conflict gradually morphed into an all-out war against the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist group al-Shabab. “The layers of violence that people have had to digest is one of the key problems for building a peaceful and healthier society,” Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told me recently.

Most often, those who bear the life-long consequences are the poor, the politically marginalised, and young people. In particular, the thousands of children who must deal with the trauma of years on the front lines.

In May, I travelled to the capital, Mogadishu – as I have done regularly since 2012 – to report on a crisis that, save for some international NGOs and human rights organisations, few seem to talk about: child soldiers.

There, I met Abdi, 16, a former child soldier. Intelligent and eloquent, he had been a star pupil at the Koranic school in his home town, about 55 miles from the capital. In 2009, at the age of seven, his teacher took him and seven other boys to join al-Shabab.

For two years, Abdi lived in a camp with about three dozen other young recruits. By the time he was eight, he had learned how to drive a car and shoot a gun. By nine, he took part in his first raid in the village of Darussalam Mubarak, where he witnessed an assassination: a man killed by three bullets to the back.

As horrific as that experience was, the image that has most haunted Abdi for years is that of the severed head of a young man his al-Shabab camp commander brandished before the recruits as a warning: this is what happens to informants.

“Even now after all these years, I have nightmares,” Abdi told me. “Sometimes I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.”

A disposable front line

While al-Shabab’s use of children as soldiers is nothing new, in the last several years the number of child soldiers has increased markedly.

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