Somalia Fights Back Against Al-Shabab Attack on Education Sector

The Somali government said it plans to reopen schools in territories recently recovered from militant group al-Shabab.

Education Minister Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir says his ministry has a plan to take education to the areas seized by the government and local forces.

Somali security forces supported by local clan militias have been dislodging al-Shabab from towns and villages in central Somalia since August.

“The Somali people have risen up in support of their government, a sizable land has been liberated; we are going to reopen the schools, we are going to take the curriculum there, and we are going to send teachers there,” Abdulkadir said in an interview with VOA Somali. “The government will utilize all of its power to provide education service to the people who have not had regular or proper education for a long time.”

He said the government already sent school supplies to Hirshabelle State, which was a focal point for the offensive against the militants.

Abdulkadir said only 24% of Somalis currently have opportunity to access education.

“They [al-Shabab] have taken advantage of this lack of knowledge and ignorance, and God willing; we are going to put a lot of effort into that to change,” he said.

The minister’s pledge to revive education in areas captured from al-Shabab is not a coincidence. It comes nearly three weeks after two consecutive al-Shabab bombs targeted the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu, killing 121 people and injuring more than 330 others.

On the day of the attack, the Ministry was issuing high school certificates to some of the 35,000 secondary students who took the national exam.

After the explosions, a senior al-Shabab official, Mahad Karate, who had his bounty increased by the U.S. on Monday to $10 million, launched a stinging verbal attack on the Ministry of Education.

“Some people are asking themselves why the Ministry of Education was attacked, we say this ministry was the center for dozens of projects intended to undermine Islam,” he said in an audio published by al-Shabab media. “It’s used by the enemy for the psychological warfare against the Somali Muslims; it’s fighting Islamic curriculums and is used for spreading misguided curriculums brought in by the infidels.”

Karate, whose real name is Mahad Warsame Qaley, also accused the Ministry of Education of helping to recruit Somali students into the national army.

Al-Shabab has targeted education institutions and students for years. In a suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony on December 3, 2009, a bomber killed 26 people including graduates, teachers and four government ministers. On October 4, 2011, al-Shabab detonated a suicide truck bomb as hundreds of students lined up seeking scholarships from Turkey, killing more than 100 people, most of them students.

In addition, the group has warned students and schools not to take part in government-sponsored exams. In October 2018, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Dhere told private schools to “beware” of having relationships with the federal government.

Al-Shabab has also been trying to influence the curriculum, going so far as to introduce its own curriculum for primary schools in April 2017 and middle schools in June 2021.

The group has run its own schools to teach the curriculum in areas it controls.

“Conditions for admission is there should be at least 70 students in each institution, between 13 and 25 years of age, unmarried. Clans pay institution expenses; al-Shabab provides the teachers,” said former Al-Shabab education official Ibrahim Nadara.

He said at the end of two-year education period, the top 10 students are entered into a special institute for higher education; the remaining 90 are taken straight into al-Shabab training camps.

Nadara said al-Shabab recruits hundreds of fighters from these institutions.

“It’s the only never-ending recruitment factory,” he said.

Abdulkadir said the threats from al-Shabab “fell on deaf ears” as the government went ahead in developing its own curriculum. In 2018, it completed the primary and middle school curriculum, and in 2020 succeeded in completing the same for high schoolers.

He dismissed al-Shabab claims of foreign involvement in the government curriculum and criticized al-Shabab’s curriculum, which he said instructs children to carry out killings and explosions.

“It’s teaching people savagery,” he said.

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