A monthly pay offer of up to $500 (Sh44,000) by Al-Shabaab is luring jobless Kenyan youths to the Islamic militant group’s training camps in Somalia.
A report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a Pan African think-tank, says the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group is offering recruits between $150 (Sh13,350) and $500 per month to join it.
The report, which is based on interviews with 95 former Al-Shabaab fighters, indicates that 52 per cent of them joined the group because of economic and religious reasons, 13 per cent were forced to enrol and one per cent went on an adventure.
The pay is higher than the Sh30,000 paid to an entry level police constable and that of Kenya’s average salary of Sh41,416 for those in formal employment.
The group has made active recruitments in Kenya, especially at the Coast and Nairobi, which contributed to a string of gun and grenade assaults that hit the capital and coastal resorts of Mombasa and Lamu in the recent past.
“It was therefore not surprising that interviewees who defined adverse economic circumstances as a recruitment factor saw Al-Shabaab as a potential employer,” says the ISS report based on interviews done between April 14 and 28.
For a country mired in poverty and where the unemployment rate stands at 40 per cent, the pay has been attractive. It takes less than a month to hire a large number of recruits, the study says.
Donations from wealthy businessmen and illegal exports of Somalia charcoal earned the militants tens of millions of dollars last year, UN investigators said in a recent report.
The UN said the market value of Somalia charcoal exported in 2013 and 2014 was $250 million (Sh22.2 billion). But the group has faced a number of setbacks in recent weeks.
It lost the town of Barawe, a conduit for arms and a source of revenue through charcoal smuggling, to the Western-backed African Union force. It was Al-Shabaab’s last major coastal stronghold.
Its charismatic and ruthless leader, Ahmed Godane, was killed in a US missile strike last month.
The militants have carried out a string of assaults to punish Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011. Al-Shabaab fighters killed at least 67 people in the Westgate raid last year. The raids spurred Britain, the United States, France and Australia to issue travel alerts in May, hitting Kenya’s tourism hard.
Hoteliers have reported occupancy levels of about 20 per cent during the high season which starts in July, compared to normal bed rates of more than 90 per cent.
Hotel owners say they need bed occupancy of between 60 and 70 per cent to break even. This has seen tens of top hotels close doors while the tourism sector slowed economic expansion to 5.8 per cent in the second quarter of this year, compared to 7.2 per cent in a similar period last year.
The ISS report notes that mass arrests have not eased recruitment.
“It is clear from the research that strategies based on mass arrests and racial profiling are a counterproductive drive.”
The report adds that inability to deal with radicalisation is fertile ground for Al-Shabaab recruiters.