Somalia’s humanitarian localisation agenda: opportunities and barriers

Representatives from different sectors (government authorities, merchants, pastoralists, and displaced people) at the vulnerability and risk analysis workshop discussing the challenges they face and how to collaborate and coordinate during crises. Photo by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam.

Representatives from different sectors (government authorities, merchants, pastoralists, and displaced people) at the vulnerability and risk analysis workshop discussing the challenges they face and how to collaborate and coordinate during crises. Photo by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam.

By Abdiaziz Adani and Martin Namasaka

The overall progress of localisation commitments within the Grand Bargain that commits donors and aid organisations to provide 25% of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders by 2020 has often been uneven and difficult to assess. Localisation has the potential to drive truly transformative change across the humanitarian system. However, maintaining momentum and reinvigorating it where it is faltering requires political commitment, streamlining and prioritisation of commitments and, crucially, better monitoring and analysis of progress and challenges. This blog looks at some of the obstacles and potential opportunities for the implementation of the localisation agenda in Somalia/Somaliland.

According to Oxfam’s report ‘Breaking the Localisation Deadlock- Review of Humanitarian Capacities, Power Relations and Localisation in the Somali Humanitarian System’, the humanitarian crises in Somalia/Somaliland are recurrent, involving human-made crises, (mainly armed conflicts) and natural crises (droughts, floods), locusts infestation and now COVID-19. Responding to these crises especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen renewed interest in locally led development and the need to ‘Do Development Differently’. Notwithstanding the renewed interest, there remains substantial obstacles to fully realise the localisation agenda in Somalia/Somaliland.

First, there is a passive acceptance of international humanitarian values by some Local National Humanitarian Actors (LNHAs) without enough quality discussion on the practical implications of their implementation in the local context. Pressure by international donors on reporting and procedural compliance in most cases diverts the debate from essential humanitarian values towards managerial principles. In general, there is a good understanding of the essential humanitarian principles and approaches by LNHAs and international actors. Values of transparency and accountability are gaining traction among LNHAs.

Left: Korile temporary settlement, Somali Region, Ethiopia. Photo by Tina Hillier/Oxfam

Second, attracting qualified humanitarian staff is still an issue as most Local and National NGOs (LNNGOs) cannot provide adequate salary packages for specialists. In several cases, LNHAs are confined to an “activity Implementation” role, with no participation in the strategic design of programmes or overall humanitarian strategies. The high turnover of staff in LNHAs, exacerbated by international agencies’ poaching of LNHA staff, is hampering the development of consistent and technical institutional capacity within LNHAs. Institutional capacity building by international agencies based on a “project training approach” is still in place and limited in terms of sustained impact.

Third, lack of financial autonomy for LNHAs and state entities, is one of the most significant limitation. The lack of co-funding capacity of LNHAs limits access to donor funds. Lack of flexibility in the use of donor funds, especially on institutional development funds hampers LNHA’s capacity. International donors rarely finance operational or administrative costs of LNNGOs, making institutional sustainability particularly challenging. Conflicting interests and competition for funding among INGOs and LNNGOs has also impeded progress of the localisation agenda.

Fourth, lack of shared strategic choices and priorities among donors, INGOs, and LNHAs creates mistrust and lack of long-term commitments. Double standards in terms of human resources policies including salaries and conditions, creates discord. The overall negative narrative about Somalia, mainly articulated around stereotypes of generalised corruption, clan conflicts, and poor management, hampers trust-building between the international community and LNHAs. Sometimes trust is hampered by discussions between international agencies and LNHAs that revolve around resources instead of human needs. Mistrust is greater from international actors towards national actors than the other way around.

Left: Modeste Mirindi - Oxfam Water Engineer holding discussions with local communities in Fadhi Gaab, Somaliland. Photo by Allan Gichigi / Oxfam

Fifth, there is lack of transparency and accountability on strategic choices and long-term priorities, from international donors towards INGOs and LNHAs. This results in unstable investments and lack of capacity in LNHAs, as there are no long-term expectations of continued support. Electoral processes have often led to the politicisation of humanitarian programmes. Political agendas by donors have also slowed down localisation processes. The localisation agenda for Somalia/Somaliland has in most cases been driven globally and through the Nairobi locus, leading to the exclusion of local NGOs that cannot fully participate in or effectively influence discussions.

Overall, while progress towards the Grand Bargain funding target is slow, there appears to be a changing narrative in Somalia/Somaliland. There are several initiatives from both international and local actors that suggest the ‘localisation’ agenda is making some progress. Several LNNGOs have developed robust financial mechanisms to ensure effective financial accountability. Some LNNGOs are raising funds through the diaspora or income generating activities. The SHF has opened more opportunities for LNHAs. A 7% allocation for indirect costs is helping LNNGOs to implement their programmes more efficiently. Commitments from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund (SHF), good Somali representation within the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), strong Somali leadership within the Somalia NGO Consortium and the Somalia NGO Forum, and new consortia are some examples of this.

To this end, perhaps there are good reasons to think that COVID-19 has disrupted the status quo and made it even more fundamental to transfer power and decision-making into the hands of local people and organisations. For the case of Somalia, and Somaliland, the following recommendations apply if that were to happen.

  • To all humanitarian actors: Commit and act genuinely to address the persistent, structural barriers to advancing the localisation agenda. The discussion on localisation agenda should be articulated around the greatest humanitarian impact and its efficiency, not on organisational interests or financial needs. Issues around women’s empowerment and gender equality must be more clearly articulated and addressed throughout the humanitarian architecture, including addressing various issues such as the need to support women’s humanitarian leadership. All humanitarian actors should ensure that humanitarian assistance is reaching the most vulnerable individuals.
  • Local and National NGOs: Work together on analysing and sharing how humanitarian values and principles are implemented in the complex contexts of Somalia and Somaliland, and the dilemmas they raise in practical terms, particularly the principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence.
  • International Humanitarian Actors (INGOs and UN agencies): Reconsider how best to support LNHAs, recognising that the status quo is inadequate. From project-based approaches that fail to deliver broader institutional strengthening to not allowing sufficient flexible funding for LNHAs’ operational costs.
  • International Donors, UN funding mechanisms, and International NGOs acting as donors: Set fair conditions for access to funds for LNHAs based on impact and efficiency. A common framework for INGO and LNNGOs operational and administration costs should be agreed and controlled over the full chain of financial management. Invest in collaborative learning and piloting of tiered approaches to compliance and due diligence for smaller, local organisations recognising that over time NGOs can build up capacity to meet requirements to access larger funding amounts.
  • The Somali Government: The Federal Government of Somalia should allocate more regular resources into the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management (MHADM) and provide a regular budget that will allow the Ministry to operate to a sufficient standard that attracts further support from international donors. The Government of Somaliland should secure enough and regular governmental budget for the National Disaster Preparedness and Food Reserve Authority (NADFOR) to ensure they can lead, coordinate, and implement efficiently and at the scale required.