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Youth embrace football to ward off enticement by radical groups

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Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/February 14, 2022 – Children play football in a playground installed by the NGO Save The Children at Garas Goof camp, one of the 500 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in town, in Baidoa, Somalia. As the government liberates many regions previously controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist network, football has become the new solution to push back against the radicalisation of youth in Galmudug State, and it has cushioned the youth against recruitment by armed groups, the writers say.

By Xinhua

On a recent afternoon, white dust blown by the scorching summer wind swirled over a football stadium on the outskirts of Adado town in central Somalia’s Galmudug State.

The stadium was full of spectators chanting slogans and waving their teams’ jerseys in the air. As the players emerged from the dressing room on to the field, the crowd surged forward in a frenzied manner. Football might be a recreational event for the majority of fans all over the world, but in Adado, it plays a bigger role, that of de-radicalisation of the youth and promoting harmonious co-existence among feuding communities.

Recently, more than 10 teams gathered from across all the 10 districts making up Galmudug State for the final tournament to contend for the championship to represent the region at the national level. However, the underlying theme in this championship contest remains the role of the youth in rebuilding their country by spurning enticement by the militant group, al-Shabaab. Playing football has been criminalised by al-Shabaab in most parts of Somalia since the insurgent group took control of a large swath of the Horn of Africa country in 2006.

However, the situation has changed as the government liberates many regions previously controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist network. In Adado, football has become the new solution to push back against the radicalisation of youth in Galmudug State, and it has cushioned the youth against recruitment by armed groups. On the sidelines of the football pitch, a group of women dressed in elegant traditional attire and playing traditional drums punctuated with Somali songs hailed the importance of peaceful co-existence among different clans alongside concerted efforts to root out militants.

Galmudug Sports chairperson Hassan Shire Ahmed Alias Kaniif said football has played a major role in the de-radicalisation of the youth in the region for the last three years. “Since we started engaging our youth in football, very few have joined al-Shabaab and in the last three years, no single youth has been reported to have joined the militant group,” he said.

Shire observed that the football clubs in central Somalia have not only been at the forefront of fighting radicalisation among the youth but have also unleashed new income streams. “Playing football is now a professional job for a large number of our youth who are now playing at different regional and national clubs,” he said. According to Shire, some of the youth have even become professional coaches and are training different teams in several states within Somalia.

Hussein Ali Sahal, the Adado District Education Officer, said that football is also playing a major role in reconciling warring communities in Galmudug State. “Our biggest aim of starting football clubs was to stop our youth buying into dangerous ideology spread by militant groups such as al-Shabaab, but as we progressed, we found out that soccer was also playing a part in reconciling our communities who had some misunderstanding,” Ali said.

Yahya Shantax, the manager of Golden Football Pitch, one of the private football pitch businesses in Adado, noted that the beautiful game has gained traction among local youth, hence shielding them from anti-social behaviour. Cigaal Mohamud Nurre, an ex-coach of the Adado district team, said there are seven football clubs registered with the local ministry of sports. The Adado public stadium, constructed in the 1970s, was renovated at a cost of $145500 in 2019 by the Federal Republic of Somalia to help fight the radicalisation of youth in central Somalia.

This article was first published by Xinhua