Country Background

Somalia has not had an effective national government for nearly three decades, during which much of the country has been a war zone. The terrorist group Al-Shabab has de facto ruled over large swaths of Somalia and initially gained support by promising people security. The group’s credibility eroded when it rejected Western food aid to combat a 2011 drought and famine. Despite an increase in targeted airstrikes by the U.S. under President Trump, Al-Shabab continues to conduct attacks in Somalia, targeting the Somali state and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces. The country is plagued by both armed conflict and worsening climatic shocks (i.e. droughts and flash floods) and this has resulted in the massive displacement of people.

What Nonprofits Need to Know

Below in the blue is an overview of the humanitarian and peacebuilding needs in Somalia. In the red are the primary sanctioned groups presently operating there. Because U.S. law prohibits the provision of “material support” to listed terrorists individuals and groups as well as engaging in trade with sanctioned persons and entities, the presence of these groups and sanctions programs can impact the delivery of aid and peacebuilding programs. The list below is non-exhaustive and changes frequently, so it is important for nonprofits to check all partners and those with whom they engage in transactions against, at a minimum, the U.S. Specially Designated National (SDN) and the United Nations Security Council Consolidated lists. Below the charts is information on OFAC licenses, where applicable, and links to our research and advocacy, and other relevant information.

Humanitarian & Peacebuilding Needs

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 7.7 million people, nearly half the population, are expected to need humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2022.

Natural Hazards: Climate change is a major concern in Somalia. Drought and flooding are two common factors that drive humanitarian need in the country. Between October 2021 and February 2022, roughly 572,700 people were displaced by drought in Somalia, and 13,700 people were affected by a flood in May 2021.

Food Security and Nutrition: At the end of 2021, 7.2 million Somalis were experiencing acute food insecurity, 3.5 million of whom were in urgent need of food assistance. In 2022, an estimated 1.4 million children under 5 will suffer from acute malnutrition, including 329,500 children who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

Disease and Healthcare: An estimated 6.56 million Somalis will require lifesaving healthcare in 2022. The average life expectancy in Somalia is 51.5 years, a number driven largely by conflict, malnutrition, and diseases including COVID-19, cholera, measles, and malaria.

Ongoing Hostilities: Conflict between the Somali government, regional authorities, opposition forces and armed groups continue to exacerbate humanitarian conditions and kill civilians, as all parties to the conflict continue to carry out indiscriminate attacks in violation of international law. The U.S. has also been conducting counterterrorism operations in Somalia for over 15 years. Air Wars, a nonprofit that monitors civilian casualties in armed conflicts, estimates that U.S. military operations in Somalia since 2007 have killed between 68 – 143 civilians.

Displacement: Somalia is home to 2.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 2.2 million of whom are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Gender-based violence (GBV): Women, children, and other marginalized groups are at particular risk of exploitation and abuse, such as gender-based violence, sexual violence, and child recruitment.

al-Shabaab: Formed in 2006, the group maintains strongholds in rural areas in the south and is responsible for numerous high-profile attacks throughout Somalia and in the northeast in Puntland State. The U.S. designated this group as an FTO in 2008. More information here.

Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) networks in Somalia: Active since 2015, this offshoot of ISIS formed counter al-Shabaab’s opposition to the federal authorities in Somalia with its own. The group operates throughout the country but conducts recruitment and training mainly in Puntland, the semiautonomous region in the northeast. It is designated as an FTO by the U.S. More information here.

Primary Terrorist Presence &
Other Sanctioned Groups

Access overview of U.S. Somalia Sanctions here and the United Nation’s Security Council Committee Somalia sanctions pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) here.

Licenses Offered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury enforces sanctions programs. It has a licensing process that allows transactions with sanctioned entities, including listed terrorist groups, that would otherwise be unlawful. Nonprofits that operate in areas affected by sanctions often apply for licenses from OFAC so that they are able to provide services to civilians in conflict zones around the world without running afoul of U.S. sanctions law, engage in peacebuilding activities and more. Find more information here.

  • On Aug. 25, 2021, OFAC issued a specific license for U.S. agencies and their grantees to deliver aid in Afghanistan. This approach was woefully inadequate, as it was not available to groups that do not receive U.S. funding and it required eligible groups to apply individually for the license.
  • On Sep. 24, 2021, OFAC issued General License 14 and General License 15 to allow transactions necessary to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, effectively protecting aid organizations from the direct prohibitions created by sanctions. C&SN published a summary and analysis of these general licenses.
  • On Dec. 10, 2021, OFAC issued General License 16 allowing non-commercial personal remittances to be sent to Afghanistan.
  • On Dec. 22, 2021, OFAC issued General License 17 authorizing activities involving the Taliban or Haqqani Network “that are for the conduct of the official business of
    the United States Government by employees, grantees, or contractors thereof,” General License 18 authorizing various international institutions to conduct activities involving the Taliban or Haqqani Network, and General License 19 authorizing a wider range of civil society activities than were originally protected under GL 14 and GL 15, such as human rights, education, and development activities. C&SN issued a statement in response to these licenses lauding the improvements but calling for further action.
  • On Feb. 25, 2022, OFAC issued General License 20, allowing all transactions with Afghan government institutions, and allowing transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network “for the purpose of effecting the payment of taxes, fees, or import duties, or the purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services, provided that such payments do not relate to luxury items or services.” C&SN published a summary and analysis of this general license, applauding the broad approach, while still calling for more fundamental steps by the U.S. government to address the crisis, including the release of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves to the Central Bank of Afghanistan.
  • For specific transactions not covered by the general licenses, specific licenses are required. You can apply for an OFAC License Online to get authorization from OFAC to engage in a transaction that otherwise would be prohibited.

Policy Reform

The Charity & Security Network advocates for change in national security measures to better support nonprofits working around the world. In fragile contexts, counterterrorism measures often impede humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations from accessing finance for their programs and serving populations in need. Find out more on our key issues below:

  • Following the issuance of General Licenses 14 and 15, C&SN called on the administration to issue broader general licenses for Afghanistan to protect human rights, peacebuilding, atrocity prevention, democracy building, development, and other civil society programs. Treasury has since taken steps to explicitly protect some of these activities.
  • C&SN continues to call on the administration to release Afghanistan’s foreign reserves to the Central Bank of Afghanistan so that it may perform its primary function of stabilizing the economy, which is essential for an effective response to the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
  • A C&SN and Alliance for Peacebuilding report, “Preventing Peace: How ‘Material Support’ Laws Undermine Peacebuilding,” addresses the case of Afghanistan in which an FTO designation was withheld in order to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.
  • Find more information on Material Support here.
  • Find more information on Financial Access here.

Last updated: March 10, 2022