In the dying days of the Battle of Mogadishu two years ago, on the beachside base used by Ugandan African Union troops in their successful campaign to drive Al-Shabaab from the capital, I came across three new prisoners. Handcuffed, dirty and dejected, the eldest of them was 17, the youngest 15.

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They were volunteers, they said, who had put their hands up when an Al-Shabaab recruiter came to their school. This had happened a fortnight before; they had surrendered when they became separated from their unit and ran out of bullets. Why, I asked, had they put their hands up in the first place? The boys all looked at each other. “We were given a piece of fruit every day,” one of them said.

More from James Fergusson@ CNN

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