Negotiating perceptions: Al-Shabaab and Taliban views of aid agencies

Briefing papers
July 2014

What armed groups like Al-Shabaab and the Taliban think of aid agencies can mean the difference between gaining access to areas under their control to provide aid people in need – or being expelled from their territory.

Based on research and interviews with members of the Taliban and Al-Shabaab, this HPG policy brief explores how these armed groups perceive aid agencies and the implications on humanitarian response in those areas.

Key messages:

  • Aid agencies working in Afghanistan and Somalia have generally been treated with suspicion by Al-Shabaab and the Taliban. These suspicions derive from the belief that agencies are not primarily interested in helping local people, and are acting as spies or profiteers.

  • The potentially dangerous consequences of such negative perceptions underscore the importance of aid agencies repeatedly, clearly and consistently communicating their goals and values with all levels of these armed groups.

  • But it is not enough for aid agencies to simply claim to act impartially, neutrally and independently: they must also be seen to behave accordingly and deliver high-quality, needs-driven programming. Members of the Taliban have seen a lack of long term benefits to the community as proof that aid agencies have a ‘hidden agenda’