MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels have banned English from schools in the southern port city of Kismayu they control and demanded teachers switch the curriculum to include Arabic and Islamic studies.
The latest edict shows the disconnect between the al Qaeda-allied rebels intent on stamping harsh laws on areas they control, and Somali leaders who have agreed to hold an election next year even though the internationally backed government barely controls any territory beyond the capital.
The new school ruling also comes just days after the rebels ordered businesses on the outskirts of Mogadishu to rip down posters in English and Somali and replace them with Arabic ones.
Teachers in Kismayu said al Shabaab ordered the syllabus be changed from the beginning of this month after a week of meetings between the two parties.
“We used to teach the students Kenyan, Sudanese or Malaysian curricula which are written in English so that students can understand the material when they reach university,” Mahmud Ali, headmaster of Mohamed Jamac secondary and primary school in Kismayu, told Reuters by phone.
“But now we can’t teach because we have to change everything, including our teachers who are mostly Kenyan and don’t speak Arabic. We also used to teach students Somali literature, we don’t know what to do now,” he said.
The southern port city of Kismayu has about six secondary schools that teach in English, while most of the primary schools already teach in Arabic.
Al Shabaab have in the past sought to recruit school children to join a holy war against Somalia’s government and its allies. They have already banned English and science studies in other parts of southern Somalia.
In a statement posted on al Shabaab’s website, the militants said they took this step because they felt students were learning values in Christian and Hindu curriculums that they said were against Islamic sharia principles.
The hardline group, which bans music, movies and soccer, adheres to its own harsh interpretation of sharia law. They have also beheaded people and amputated limbs as punishment.
“The reason we want to impose this is to eradicate every curriculum against the Islamic sharia and we want to promote Islamic studies. We will take steps to control the educational system of our children,” the group said in a statement.
“Parents have to make sure they teach their children the principles of Islamic jihad,” said the group, which wants to impose its version of sharia law on all of Somalia.
Somali politicians adopted a roadmap on Tuesday designed to lead to elections within a year and end a string of fragile transition governments that have successively failed to bring peace.
The meeting came about three weeks after al Shabaab withdrew from most of their rebel bases in Mogadishu, a move they said was tactical. Their leader has vowed the fighters will return.
The plan also lays out timetables for improving security in Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia, but it is not entirely clear how they would achieve that with an already overstretched African Union peacekeeping force, and al Shabaab intent on launching attacks against government and African troops.
Somalia has been in turmoil since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab launched its insurgency in 2007.