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Peace partners in Somalia turn to books to help fight Shabaab

Saturday March 26, 2016

The European Union has funded model schools in Somalia to the tune of $6.6 million. FILE PHOTO | AFP

International partners in the Somalia peace process are now using formal education and vocational training to counter Al Shabaab influence on illiterate youth.

The European Union (EU) for example, has set up 10 model schools in Jubaland, Puntland, Galmudug, Banadir and Hiraan — areas that the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has liberated.

The United Nations Children’s Fund is also enabling some 50,000 school-aged children, including adolescents, to get an education; some of them learn under temporary structures.

The EU, on the other hand, has funded the model schools to the tune of $6.6 million. The project involves expanding primary and secondary education opportunities, training teachers and equipping uneducated youth with vocational skills including carpentry and electrical works.

The project is being implemented by the German non-governmental organisation, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

The EU ambassador to Somalia Michele Cervone d’Urso said that the fact that the country had not had any formal learning over the past 25 years since the civil war broke out after the fall of the Siad Bare government, had contributed to the vulnerability of the youth to Al Shabaab propaganda.

“The expanded peace in more regions of south and central Somalia has created a greater demand for education,” said Mr d’Urso. “Our support in these regions has demonstrated the positive role education can play in stabilising the country.”

Mr d’Urso said that EU tripled its support to education in targeted regions in 2015, and more funding is expected this year, with specific focus on the newly liberated areas.

Jointly with the Federal Government of Somalia and the Jubaland Administration under the leadership of President Ahmed Mohamed Islam, the EU ambassador on March 7, launched the second phase of the education programme in south and central Somalia.

President Islam said that besides fighting Al Shabaab militarily, the militants must also be fought through education and ideology, which would equip the youth with counter narratives that can reduce or neutralise Al Shabaab.

Books and pens, not guns

“We are trying to promote education to reduce the number of youth joining Al Shabaab, sometimes through coercion.

“Children are supposed to carry books and pens, and not guns,” said President Islam, who presided over a ground-breaking ceremony for a model school in Kismayu on March 6.  

The model school will integrate rainwater harvesting, solar power and efficient building technology to allow for natural ventilation in view of the hot climate.

It will also involve renovations in 12 existing primary schools with a view of developing the physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of the children, who have been deprived of education for decades.

The Somalia Federal Minister for Education, Khadar Bashir-Ali, told The EastAfrican in Kismayu  that for the country to realise stability, it was necessary to address the issue of lack of educational and employment opportunities for the youth otherwise they were easy prey for the destabilising forces.

“The education sector in the liberated areas is recovering from the 25 years of war that destroyed all the physical infrastructure. The war also destroyed the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of the youth,” said Ms Bashir-Ali. “We have developed the curriculum to address all these issues.”

According to the latest Unicef report released at the end of January, two million Somali youth under the age of 18 have been affected by the war between Amisom and Al Shabaab.

In particular, military operations launched by Amisom in July 2015 triggered new displacements in parts of central and southern Somalia.


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