Muslim leaders in Kenya say they have evidence that Kenya's government is covertly recruiting youth from the isolated ethnic Somali communities in northeastern Kenya to fight for the Western-backed Mogadishu government in Somalia, a claim the Kenya government strongly denies. The group alleges more than 1,000 Kenyan youth have been affected.
Abdullahi Abdi, chairman of the National Muslim Leaders Forum in Kenya, alleges that ethnic Somali youths are being recruited under the guise of a United Nations job, but that they later learn that they are being trained to fight for the transitional federal government in Somalia.
He says that government-owned vehicles are used to transport the youth to three different training camps in Kenyan territory. "We have evidence. I personally know the fathers and parents of some of these children. So it is a fact," he said.
Both the Kenyan government and Somali authorities categorically deny the allegations. Somalia President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said at a news conference Monday that there was no need for the Mogadishu government to recruit outside its borders.
The dry and remote area of northeastern Kenya, once known as the Northern Frontier District, is inhabited mostly by ethnic Somalis. When Kenya was granted independence, a popular uprising in the region sought to merge the area with their Somali kin across the border.
The movement was squelched by Kenya's leaders, and the area has remained largely undeveloped since.
But northeastern Kenya is acquiring increasing strategic importance for the Kenyan government and its Western allies with the rise of the arch-conservative Islamic militant group al-Shabab, which Somalia's neighbors fear give little respect to internationally recognized sovereign boundaries.
Abdi claims that once the youths are recruited, they are removed of their national identification cards and told to say they are Somali nationals.
He says that the alleged $100 offered upfront to the recruits, plus the promise of a salaried job, is too much for many youth in the marginalized region to turn down. "There is a severe drought in northern Kenya. There is lots of poverty, and there is also lack of employment. The enticement is that they are going to work for the U.N," he said.
But others within the Kenya Muslim community are urging caution until more public evidence is presented proving the allegations.
Lattif Shaban, director of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, says his group has yet to see concrete proof that undercover recruitment is taking place on behalf of the Sheikh Sharif-led Somali government. "Is this really official or is this just rumors out there? Nobody seems to know for sure. It will be difficult for us to come up with a position until it is actually proved that it is going on," he said.
Al-Shabab has also been reported of recruiting youth across the Kenyan border, both within northeastern Kenya and within the mostly-Somali Nairobi neighborhood, Eastleigh.