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Around a thousand Somali youth attended an event aimed at curbing militant Islamist group al-Shabaab's recruitment activities in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Sunday, but the shadow of the insurgents loomed heavy over the evening.
The event was organized by pop group Waayaha Cusub (New Era), which has angered al-Shabaab by recording songs condemning its actions and calling on youth to oppose them. The theme of the evening was “Somalis are not terrorists, al-Shabaab are not Somalis”, but while many youth turned up, getting them to actually speak out against the insurgents was another matter, highlighting al-Shabaab's long reach.
Waayaha Cusub's manager, founder and songwriter Shino Abdullahi Ali exhorted the crowd to put up their hands if they hated al-Shabaab, but less than ten people were brave enough to do so. A group of young girls said they were concerned al-Shabaab members may be in the hall, and could photograph those who held up their hands and punish them later.
Al-Shabaab is believed to have a strong presence in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood (known as Little Mogadishu due to its overwhelmingly Somali character), where it recruits and carries out fundraising. Somalis often face crackdowns from Kenyan police in the neighborhood as they search for illegal immigrants and suspected al-Shabaab members.
Shino said that the event was aimed at curbing what he called al-Shabaab's growing influence amongst Somali youth in Kenya.
"We cannot move freely in Kenya because of al-Shabaab, who made us isolated community because of their terrorism," he told Somalia Report. Despite the obvious fear of the crowd, lawmaker Abdikadir Nur Arale said he was sure such events would hit al-Shabaab's recruitment drive. "The Somali community in Kenya, particularly youth, are at risk of being recruited as al-Shabaab fighters," he told Somalia Report.
New Era have been around for years, and have been credited with changing attitudes in war-torn Somalia, despite threats and intimidation.