LONDON— At a youth town hall meeting in London hosted by VOA, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said the fact that Somali young men are still joining the al-Shabab militants reflects a “weakness” of the country’s leadership. But he pledged renewed efforts to establish security and create jobs for the young people.
The president told the gathering of about 80 young men and women that his focus on creating a secure environment in Somalia will generate investment and create jobs, providing alternatives for young people who join the militants for lack of other opportunities. He was elected only eight months ago, but he took some responsibility for al-Shabab’s continuing ability to recruit Somali youths.
“The fact that they can convince a young man to die and take his life 100 percent and never come back, and we on the other hand are not able to convince him to live and have a decent life, is a weakness on our part, as politicians, religious leaders, elders and women’s groups," Mohamud said. "Whoever we are, it's a problem and a weakness on our part."
Mohamud also said the government is establishing training centers to help young people transition from poverty to employment, and said he will create a special office to deal with youth issues. He defended his government’s program to rehabilitate men who defect from al-Shabab or are captured, denying allegations that some of them have returned to terrorism.
With VOA Somali Service reporter Harun Maruf moderating, the president told the audience of Somali expatriates in London that many of the al-Shabab attackers include former exiles, who have returned to join the militants. And he called on moderate Somalis abroad to return home and help build a new society.
“The good thing that we have is today, the number of young generation coming from the diaspora, or going into the education schools in Somalia, is increasing by the number," he said. "And we have a very good number of young, qualified people, which we are expecting to influence the rest of them.”
President Mohamud spoke the day after a gathering of more than 50 nations and international organizations pledged continuing aid to Somalia. The conference communique calls this “a pivotal moment” for the country, and cited security as the key element. But it also called for political reform, economic growth, transparency and the protection of human rights.
The conference also praised the new government’s efforts to fight piracy off the Somali coast, citing a sharp drop in recent months. At the VOA event, Mohamud was asked about the more than 1,000 Somali youths held abroad on piracy charges. He said he wants them returned to Somalia to serve their sentences, but he also acknowledged his administration will not be ready to receive them until it can “stabilize the country and restore a functional government.”
The president said he is working to establish a fund to build new youth prisons in Somalia to hold and rehabilitate former pirates, militants and ordinary criminals, and will invite overseas Somalis to donate to it.