The Humanitarian Policy Group’s Policy Brief 61 – Negotiating perceptions: Al-Shabaab and Taliban views of aid agencies – interviewed members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shababb in Somalia as well as aid recipeients and workers to learn about the armed groups’ perceptions of aid organizations, how that influences access to civilians in need and what needs to be done to improve the situation.

The researchers found that:

“Generally, however, negative perceptions of the aid enterprise presented formidable challenges to access and to the ability of agencies to do their work safely. Various factors have shaped attitudes towards aid agencies, including the troubled history of aid interventions in the two countries, suspicions about the motives and functions of aid agencies and the widespread conviction that agencies are part of a more general assault on Islam. These general suspicions coalesced around two more specific accusations: that agencies were operating as spies for, or collaborators with, states hostile to the Talban and Al-Shabaab; and that they were profiting from their work, rather than acting in the best interests of the people they were meant to be assisting.”

The authors recommend:

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the measures aid agencies must take to counter negative perceptions and maintain access are largely in line with best practice in humanitarian and development programming. It requires aid agencies to communicate clearly and consistently with all belligerents to gain acceptance; to demonstrate transparency and adherence to agreed plans; and to provide needs-driven programming and mechanisms to ensure feedback and redress.”

But they note the barrier counterterrorism restrictions create, saying:

“Many aid agencies fear that even engaging in dialogue with Al-Shabaab could lead to the suspension of funding or even criminal penalties. In this respect, joint advocacy on humanitarian exemptions and efforts to bring greater clarity to counter-terror laws and policies are important.”