In the heart of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, a secret initiative is being carried out by the UAE and Egypt to recruit and train nearly 3,000 young Somali men, multiple sources have told Middle East Eye.
In an exercise that began months ago, the recruits, aged between 18 and 28, have been promised well-paid jobs, with many of them already sent to Egypt for military training, paid for by the UAE.
The initiative is likely to be perceived with suspicion in neighbouring Ethiopia, locked in an ongoing spat with Cairo over its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project, as well as in Turkey and Qatar, who have both enjoyed influence in Somalia in recent years.
‘Nearly 120 of us were recruited from Baidoa around mid-September, and we were informed that we would be taken to Egypt for training’
– Mohamed, Somali recruit
Among those housed at Mogadishu’s Damanyo barracks is the younger brother of Mustafa Abdullahi.
Abdullahi is anxious for his younger brother, who he asked not to name, a former rickshaw driver aged 28.
Addullahi told MEE he was angry at authorities for convincing his younger brother to join up, which he believes he did in order to provide for his young daughter.
“As his elder brother who raised him, he had not notified me when he was leaving, and we are worried about him,” said Abdullahi.
“We have now been told that he is suffering in a camp in Mogadishu and is expected to be taken to Egypt for military training.
“I also learnt that he was promised a salary of about $500 a month,” Abdullahi, who lives in Baidoa, a city in southern Somalia, told MEE.
Unlike Mustafa’s brother, another recruit named Mohamed, who asked for his real name to be withheld, was able to escape from the camp in the early hours of Saturday.
Mohamed, who was held with Mustafa’s brother and who had his smartphone seized on arrival, said he could not bear the gruelling conditions at the camp, including a lack of adequate food and medical facilities.
Deaths inside camps
He said conditions were so bad that five of the recruits died in mid-October.
“Nearly 120 of us were recruited from Baidoa around mid-September, and we were informed that we would be taken to Egypt for training,” Mohamed told MEE.
“I opted to join since I was told it’s money-making. We were around 2,000 recruits at the camp,”
He added that a senior Somali security official had notified them that UAE was reviving its security presence in Somalia and they would soon be travelling to Egypt for training.
The recruits, most of whom are from destitute families, underwent thorough medical and security background checks before they were enlisted, signing up to provide for their loved ones in a country where nearly seven out of 10 people live in poverty.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, senior Somali government officials who are privy to the matter, told MEE that individuals secretly carry out recruitment at the office of the president, in collaboration with security personnel from the UAE and Egypt.
“I have recruited more than 50 of them from my clan, and they have been flown to the capital to go through the process,” a senior Somali political leader said.
“Many of the clans are not involved, and I understand that this is a joint project where the United Arab Emirates will fully fund the process while Egypt will carry out the training exercise.”