Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Talking to the other side: Humanitarian negotiations with Al-Shabaab in Somalia

Research reports

Written by Ashley Jackson

The research findings are also available as a policy brief: “Al-Shabaab engagement with aid agencies”.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous environments in the world for aid workers and humanitarian organisations. One of the largest obstacles to reaching people in need of humanitarian assistance is the militant armed group Al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab’s sophisticated system for monitoring and controlling aid, the demands placed on aid agencies and the consequences of failed negotiations are revealed in this research.

Drawn from over 80 interviews with former Al-Shabaab officials, aid workers and civilians, this research details difficulties faced by aid agencies attempting to operate in Al-Shabaab controlled areas during the 2011 famine. Al-Shabaab’s Humanitarian Coordination Office forced aid agencies to complete registration forms and other documentation that laid out general conditions for access, with negotiations with the militant group also resulting in payments of registration fees (as much as $10,000). The consequences for breaking the rules were extreme: outright hostility, expulsions, attacks and harassment.

The majority of the research focuses on events in 2011, but highlights Al-Shabaab’s ongoing methods of control and regulation in areas under the group’s control; far from having disappeared, the group remains present in large parts of the country, continuing to pose a tremendous obstacle to humanitarian action.

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