Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Al-Shabaab engagement with aid agencies

Briefing/policy paper

Written by Ashley Jackson

Briefing/policy paper

The research findings are also available as a larger working paper: “Talking to the other side: Humanitarian negotiations with Al-Shabaab in Somalia”.

Somalia remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. One of the most formidable obstacles to reaching people in need of assistance has been Harakat Al- Shabaab al-Mujhadeen (Al-Shabaab). Despite routinely expelling, attacking and harassing aid workers, Al-Shabaab permits some agencies to work in areas under its control. However, little is understood about Al-Shabaab’s attitudes towards aid agencies and the factors that have enabled some aid agencies to effectively negotiate access to areas it controlled.

Key messages

  • Al-Shabaab has routinely expelled aid agencies, and at the height of its territorial control implemented a system of aid agency regulation, taxation and surveillance. Where agencies are allowed to operate, this is often due to the desire of Al-Shabaab to coopt and materially and politically benefit from the provision of aid and services.
  • Comprehensive dialogue with Al-Shabaab is critical to reducing risk of diversion and improving prospects for long-term access. Structured engagement at all levels has allowed agencies to pursue a consistent approach towards Al-Shabaab and communicate clear messages about what they would accept.

This research into humanitarian negotiations with Al-Shabaab in Somalia, is part of the larger research project ‘Humanitarian negotiations with armed non-state actors’ which has also investigated negotiations with Afghanistan; Darfur, Sudan; and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, Sudan.

Ashley Jackson and Abdi Aynte