This report examines efforts in Somalia to disengage and deracialize former members of Al-Shabaab through the Serendi rehabilitation center. This program is designed to weaken the group’s influence by providing an attractive alternative.
The report analyses the program’s effectiveness and makes a case for exploring similar initiatives in other comparable environments.
The Serendi rehabilitation center in Mogadishu offers support to ‘low-risk’ former members of Al-Shabaab to prepare them for reintegration into the community, as part of the wider strategy of the Federal Government of Somalia and its international partners to counter the organization.
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While certain challenges remain, between 2015 and 2018 Serendi was gradually converted into a functional center in terms of its conditions and services offered. As such, the implementing team has now additionally been tasked with supporting both outreach (messaging campaigns to encourage additional disengagements from Al-Shabaab, as well as other related activities) and community reintegration of beneficiaries after leaving the center.
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This report presents detailed information about the Serendi program, as well as wider empirical evidence drawn from interviews with 129 current and former residents on issues such as how and why they enlisted in Al-Shabaab in the first place, how and why they disengaged, and their experiences of reintegration post-exit. While closely related prison-based initiatives have become increasingly common over recent years in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Yemen, Serendi-style semi-open residential rehabilitation centers for ‘low-risk’ former violent extremists remain comparatively rare. The authors of this report advocate for cautiously upscaling such efforts in Somalia, as well as exploring the possibilities to replicate this form of programming in other comparable environments.
Dr. James Khalil is an independent countering violent extremism, deradicalization, and disengagement specialist. Over recent years he has provided research and monitoring and evaluation expertise to such programs funded by the EU, UK, US, UN, and Sweden in locations such as Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.
Since March 2015, he has been responsible for the research and monitoring, and evaluation of a rehabilitation program in Mogadishu for former members of al-Shabaab. He also led an evaluation of USAID/OTI programming in Mali and acted as a senior expert for RUSI’s STRIVE program in the Horn of Africa.
He previously worked as a UK Ministry of Defense analyst, where he was responsible for numerous research projects relating to the dynamics of civil war. During this period, he also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he led coalition force campaign effects assessment, respectively in Basra and Kandahar.
He holds a doctorate degree from the University of Leeds, through which he focused on the relationship between Maoist insurgents and the local population in remote parts of Nepal. Through his various roles, he has interviewed approximately two-hundred terrorists and insurgents.
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