Radicalisation and al-Shabaab recruitment in Somalia

This paper presents the results of in-depth research on radicalisation in Somalia, and identifies specific driving factors that counter-terrorism strategies should take into account.

Effective counter-radicalisation strategies should be based on an empirical understanding of why people join terrorist organisations. Researchers interviewed former al-Shabaab fighters and identified a complex array of reasons for why they joined the organisation. Interviewers developed a profile of typical al-Shabaab recruits and identified factors facilitating their recruitment, including religious identity, socioeconomic circumstances (education, unemployment), political circumstances and the need for a collective identity and a sense of belonging.

The reasons for al-Shabaab’s rise are discussed and recommendations are made to the Somali government, countries in the region and international organisations and donors on how to counter radicalisation and recruitment to al-Shabaab.

A similar study was conducted in Kenya and the results have been published here.

About the authors

Anneli Botha has been a senior researcher at the ISS in Pretoria since 2003. After completing an honours degree in international politics she joined the South African Police Service’s Crime Intelligence Unit in 1993, focusing, among other things, on terrorism and religious extremism. She has a master’s degree in political studies from the University of Johannesburg and a PhD from the University of the Free State. Her specific areas of interest are counter-terrorism strategies and the underlying causes of terrorism and radicalisation.

Mahdi Abdile is the FCA Deputy Regional Representative for East and Southern African Regional Office. He is currently completing his PhD thesis in the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He has participated in several EU and Academy of Finland research projects on diaspora involvement in peacebuilding in the Horn of Africa. For the past five years he has worked for a number of international organisations and as a consultant for the United Nations.

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Development partners
This study was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and is the result of a partnership between Finn Church Aid and the ISS. The study was commissioned by the Network of Religious Leaders Peacemakers, the ISS and Finn Church Aid. FCA is a partner organisation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. The ISS is grateful for support from the members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States.
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