Finally, I felt like a man, and it was a great feeling. I was putting food on the table, I was paying my mother’s medical bills, I was educating my sister, we had a roof over our heads, we had decent clothes on our backs, all thanks to me. For what seemed like the first time in a really long time, I felt proud of myself.
Life had not been easy. My father’s death had dealt my family such a huge blow it seemed we would never recover from it. I thought we had friends, I thoughts we had family, I thought we had the community, but I was wrong; the second my father passed on, we were on our own. Watching my mother getting dragged out of the house we called our home by the people I’d thought were our relatives was my lowest point. It was inconceivable that we were losing our home, the house my mother and father had worked hard to put up all because my father was no more.
When our extended family disinherited us so they could be in charge of whatever my father had meant to bequeath us, I turned to the community, thinking that because they had known my father when he was alive they’d stand with us and help us fight for what rightfully belonged to us – I was wrong. I turned to the police hoping they would help us get justice, but my efforts were in vain. We were well and truly on our own.
Thus, when a friend of mine approached me with the line, “Rama itakuwaje? (Rama, what will you do?) Your family needs you to stand up and be a man. You mother needs you to take care of her hospital bills, your sister needs you to educate her, you need to fend for your people. What will you do?” And that was how I got recruited to join a criminal gang.
It looks so easy in the movies. You pick your guns, threaten people and walk away with the loot but crime in real life is no walk in the park. I hated handling the weapons, I hated using violence to subdue our targets, I hated the look of raw fear and suppressed anger as we stole from them, most of all I hated it when anyone lost their lives in our hands. I’d have nightmares for days, I would spend hours reliving the event wishing we’d done things differently, wishing we’d tried a different approach. I hated my new life, but I felt helpless, I felt I had no options, no hope, no power, no choice but to live by the sword.
When my mother found out how I was making ends meet, she was livid! So angry was she that she couldn’t bear to talk or even look at me for days. I was however least bothered; we were surviving and that’s all that mattered to me. Soon, the long arm of the law caught up with me and I had to go into hiding. I felt truly cornered – my family had rejected me, the community was against me for obvious reasons and now the police were hot on my heels – that’s when I got the brilliant idea to go to Somalia.
A new imam had joined our mosque in Majengo, and he was working round the clock to radicalize youths and send then to join the al-Shabaab in Somalia. It wasn’t hard for him to find willing recruits – the youth in the area were an angry and frustrated lot. Many like me were bitter, desperate, hopeless, powerless and on the run.
Before I managed to flee to Somalia, I got arrested for robbery with violence. My imprisonment felt like the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Seeing myself in prison felt surreal, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, I couldn’t believe the way in which my life had transformed, the way in which I had sunk to this new low. I would like to say that my incarceration was my turning point, but it wasn’t, I was too broken at this point.
I was released a very different man from the one who had been arrested. I was traumatised, brutalized, victimized and simply done. I was the walking wounded, I seemed alive but inside I was