Somali militant groups are using Kenya as a hunting ground for new recruits for the war in their country. RNW's Koert Lindijer found one young man who's been targeted in this way, and also a Kenyan mayor who dares to speak out against this illegal practice.
Abdullahi, a businessman in Garissa, a town in northeast Kenya, says, "We're making big profits because of the war in Somalia [...] a lot of money and goods moved from Somalia to Garissa and our town has benefited as a result."
Meanwhile, there's another 'import' from Kenya's northerly neighbour, for the extremist Islamist Somalian organisation al-Shabaab is keen to hire local youngsters here after they've been trained for the Kenyan army.
Islamic preacher Hussein Mahat points to the dangers of Kenya becoming too involved in the problems of neighbouring Somalia: "The practice of recruiting fighters on Kenyan territory for the war in Somalia, effectively wipes out our neutrality. Kenya has become a front-line state".
He adds, "We ethnic Somalis are already regarded as second-class citizens in Kenya and this can only make that worse. Sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn't be better to go and live in Somalia".
Cows and camels
Northeast Kenya looks a lot like Somalia; it's dry, hot and dusty. And there are a lot of cows and camels. Many of them can be found at Garissa's market, which the traders say is the biggest cattle market in all east Africa. A lot of the goods in the town come from Kismayo, a large port city in southern Somalia.
Many people in Garissa say that ties with Somalia have become a bit too tight recently. Over the last few months, both the Kenyan government and the al-Shabaab extremists have stepped up their recruiting efforts among young men in the border town.
One such young man is Ahmed - not his real name, but he doesn't want any unwelcome publicity. He explains: "They recruited us for the Kenyan army but wanted us to fight in the Somali government army".
"Now the militants of al-Shabaab are trying to recruit us, but that's not what we were promised."
Ahmed and 90 other recruits were trained in a small Kenyan village and then in Tsavo national park for about four months. They trained alongside Somali refugees recruited from United Nations camps inside Kenya. Ahmed finally quit under pressure from his parents.
Garissa has a brave mayor, Mohamed Gabow. He's brave because he listened to the parents' complaints and exposed the illegal recruitment practices by the Kenyan authorities. A whistleblower who's taken on the Kenyan government. "When one side starts recruiting, it encourages the other side to do the same," he points out. And that was exactly what happened after the boys returned home as a result of the publicity the mayor had given to their ordeal.
Their military training had increased the value of Ahmed and other recruits for the warring parties in Somalia. Now they are regularly approached at the market in Garissa.
"Al-Shabaab is offering us 2,000 dollars," Ahmed reveals. No one in authority in Garissa is prepared to say so officially, but everyone in the town knows it: al-Shabaab is illegally recruiting fighters inside Kenya.
Those in the know say the fundamentalist group is not only active in the northeast, but also in Eastleigh, a district of the capital Nairobi where many Somalis live.
"Al-Shabaab fighters come here for a few days rest," says Somalian journalist Abdulkarim Jimale. "Wounded fighters are treated anonymously in Kenyan hospitals, and al-Shabaab has been trying to persuade mullahs to preach its radical message in Kenyan mosques."
Life in Eastleigh doesn't appear to be bad. Expensive apartments now rise above the grimy food kiosks in the muddy streets. Banks, bureaux de change, stylish restaurants and expensive hotels are flanked by mountains of stinking rubbish. A lot of private money circulates among the Somalis in this neighbourhood.
This apparent wealth, together with the likely presence of al-Shabaab irritates many Kenyans. "Somalis are invading Kenya and taking our land," says a market stallholder in the centre of Nairobi. "They want to destroy Kenya, just as they did to their own country," snarls an elderly man.
Somalis are easy scapegoats in Kenya. They're stubborn, nomadic and Muslim. Fear of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism has led to the stigmatisation of an entire ethnic group. In Eastleigh, Somali clan elder Mohamed Ali is angry. "Why would we support al-Shabaab? Muslim extremists are the very reason we had to flee our homeland Somalia."