Former Al-Shabaab combatant calls on other women to renounce terrorism

4 May 2016

Former Al-Shabaab combatant calls on other women to renounce terrorism

She endured six years of brutality, combat and child-rearing as a wife of an Al-Shabaab leader, but Batula, (name changed), 23, has put the living nightmare behind her with the help of a rehabilitation programme in the Somali city of Baidoa.

The 23-year-old Batula (not her real name) was still an adolescent when a friend persuaded her to join the militant group that was controlling the southwestern town where she attended school.  “I cooked food for them, washed their clothes. I loved Al-Shabaab and I used to respect them very much because if someone invoking religion asks you to do something for the sake of God, you will definitely do it”, Batula said.

Batula married an al-Shabaab emir (leader) and traveled with him wherever he went. “I never left his side. I used to train with him. I now have two children, a boy and a girl”, she added.

But disillusionment set in after the birth of her second child. Fed up with the harsh living conditions, having to be “on the run” all the time, and never-ending fights and attacks, Batula decided to escape and go back to Baidoa. “Life became unbearable,” she said.

Prior to her escape, Batula’s two children fell ill. She sent them to her mother in Baidoa while she waited for the best opportunity to abandon al-Shabaab’s ranks. “He was busy with fighting in Doolon Doolow and I used that opportunity to escape and sneak out.”

The journey to Baidoa wasn’t easy. She trekked for 13 days, hiding during the day and continuing her journey at night before finally reaching the town.

A relative told Batula about the Baidoa Reintegration Center, which she says turned out to be the perfect refuge from the terrorist group. “When I arrived at the center, I was weak, emaciated, demoralized and fearful of everyone”.

Batula’s experience with Al-Shabaab is in the past, thanks to a programme funded by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) which rehabilitates former Al-Shabaab combatants in several regions of the country.

During her stay at the center, Batula and her colleagues were given vocational training and literacy classes. She can now read and write Somali. “We were taught mathematics, English, first aid, business courses and how to interact with people. I am now confident and my future is bright”.

The programme helps the disengaged combatants with some financial assistance to occupy them and help them earn a living. “I was given some startup money and I now have a small shop”.

Batula believes the women’s safe house is key to eliminating Al-Shabaab’s influence in the region and pleads for its facilities to be expanded in order to accommodate more women that escape from Al-Shabaab to join the programme.

Batula was among a group of 19 women who stayed at the safe house with their 25 dependents. After six months they all graduated on May 3rd in a ceremony held at the Baidoa Rehabilitation Center attended by representatives from the UN, Interim South West Administration, AMISOM, traditional elders, civil society groups, and various women’s groups.