January 27, 2011:
Somali Islamic terror group al Shabaab is having recruiting problems, and they are solving it by recruiting kids. Fighting in Mogadishu (the old capital of Somalia) has not been going well for al Shabaab, and many of their fighters have been killed, or discouraged enough to desert. Unable to entice enough men to join, they have convinced (or coerced) some clan elders to allow kids (large enough to handle an AK-47) to join the fight. The kids have been eager for the opportunity to have an AK-47 of their very own, and people to shoot at. This is a big deal for Somali teenagers.
This is not a new phenomenon. After several million Cold War surplus AK-47s began showing up in Africa in the 1990s, the "child soldier" became a practical factor in war. The world market for AK-47s was glutted by the late 1990s. The only market left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are, although only lawless places like Somalia and eastern Congo remain free of police efforts to halt illegal arms sales. Al Shabaab is getting its weapons from Iran (via Eritrea), or from local gunrunners, using Iranian cash.
The cheap AK-47 made it possible to use kids as young as 10-14 years old, as soldiers. This was a new development, because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. Kids had to be older, and stronger. But now, if you could lift a 4.5 kg (ten pound) AK-47 and pull the trigger, you were a killer. Child soldiers changed everything, because warlords could just kidnap or entice kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of child killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society, and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots, but if they got close enough to you, they were capable of unimaginable horrors. Al Shabaab is continuing this vile tradition, although in the name of God.