Alternative interventions in insecure environments: the case of cash in Southern Somalia
by Nisar Majid, independent consultant April 2007

In May 2006, in response to the Horn of Africa drought, a consortium of NGOs led by Oxfam GB and Horn Relief implemented an emergency cash intervention targeting pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in south-west Somalia. The intervention took place in areas of greatest humanitarian need, highlighted by the Food Security Analysis Unit (FSAU) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). They were also the areas of least humanitarian coverage, partly due to the perceived difficulties of working there – insecurity and poor roads are particular constraints. This article draws on an independent evaluation of the project to highlight some of the issues involved in implementing cash responses in insecure environments.

Project summary

Oxfam GB Somalia worked through two local partners, WASDA and Development Concern. Both are Kenyan–Somali NGOs, and normally work on the Kenyan side of the border, out of Garissa and Wajir respectively. Horn Relief, which had previously only worked in the more secure north of Somalia, extended its presence in the south to respond to the humanitarian crisis there. Horn Relief implemented directly and funded a Somali NGO, AFREC. The sixth partner was Dahabshil, a Somali money transfer company, which distributed cash to beneficiaries at field sites.

The total project budget was $4,834,053. Close to 65% of this was transferred directly to beneficiaries as cash: $807,900 was transferred to 16,158 households as an initial one-off $50 distribution, and $2,056,384 was transferred to 9,298 households in four monthly payments through a cash-for-work component. In addition, 10% of the cash-for-work phase was in the form of cash relief to the poorest members of the community. A very small amount of cash was paid to skilled workers on micro-projects.

Results of the project

The project was considered successful in a number of ways, some of which are highlighted below.

Targeting The consortium emphasised transparency, achieved through public meetings during the inception phase to explain the resources available, project principles and targeting criteria. The targeting of poor pastoralists and minority groups appeared to be very good, and women often received the cash. This was a new approach for some staff members as well as for the communities involved, and appears to have worked well.

Managing securityThe presence of ethnic Somali staff in key management positions meant that changing security conditions on the ground – including the expansion of the Council of Islamic Courts into the project area – did not affect this project as they have many projects carried out by other international organisations.

Handling the cash Managing the security of the cash was contracted out to Dahabshil, which was paid a commission for the additional logistical expenses it incurred. While there were some security incidents during the project, these were considered normal for the context and were not directly associated with the cash itself. The distribution of the cash to registered beneficiaries was very successful, with no significant additional costs or losses.

Using cash to stimulate the household and local economy The cash injection, at the household and market levels, seems to have reactivated credit and trading systems which had collapsed due to the drought and resultant loss of livestock collateral. There were no inflationary affects, benefiting individual recipient households, social networks and the wider economy.

Why was the project successful?

Choice of partner agencies, staffing and recruitment
One key element in the success of the project was the recruitment of credible partner agencies and experienced, motivated and (relatively) politically neutral ethnic Somali staff. Oxfam GB had a long-established presence on the Kenyan side of the border, and was able to draw on its local knowledge to identify appropriate partners. There were important clan dynamics to consider, as there are divisions among clans on both sides of the border and certain clans are associated with certain NGOs. Other factors in choosing partner agencies were the existence of prior contracts with Oxfam, and whether the potential partner could implement the project quickly.

Staff recruitment in insecure areas such as southern Somalia is critical to effective programming. It is also a major challenge for many organisations; if it is not addressed properly, agencies can be perceived as biased. In Somalia, this aspect of recruitment is often not handled well.

To identify appropriate staff, especially at the management level, the agencies involved in the consortium used a mixture of open and transparent recruitment processes, advertising widely including through the Somalia aid network and in Nairobi, and head-hunting known strong candidates. The role of the Regional Manager of Oxfam GB and the Executive Director of Horn Relief was also important. Both are experienced, committed, international staff, of Somali origin, with an extensive Somali network, and are therefore arguably better able than non-Somalis to identify appropriate staff.

Key field management positions were filled by ethnic Somalis who had appropriate clan status, but who were not part of the local political–clan dynamics, and with education and/or work experience outside of Somalia. As such, they had a wider working exposure and were much less associated with the established local power dynamics of the last ten to 15 years.

Preparation and coordination
Cash aid in southern Somalia is a relatively unknown commodity, in contrast to the north. While a few cash-based programmes have been implemented in the south, little is known about how they fared, and many doubted that cash programmes could be possible in some of the most insecure areas of the country. Horn Relief had faced this same sceptical audience several years previously, when implementing cash programmes in the north of the country for the first time. In addition, the consortium utilised a community-based targeting methodology that was new to the south. Few staff of the implementing agencies had experience of the methodology, or indeed of cash programming as a whole.

In these circumstances, good preparation was essential. A three-day workshop was undertaken at the beginning of the project to train staff on the implementation methodology, and to promote cohesion within the consortium. The consortium also met in Garissa, Kenya, for two or three days every six to seven weeks during implementation, to discuss problems and share experiences. Although time and logistical constraints meant that this was slightly less frequent than the monthly meetings originally envisaged, these meetings were still an important forum.

The inclusive targeting approach
The targeting approach the project used – called Inclusive Community-based Targeting (ICBT) – was originally developed by Horn Relief in northern Somalia. As its name suggests, it emphasises transparency, empowerment and community participation, achieved through:

  • The preliminary identification of beneficiary selection criteria, based on vulnerability indicators such as asset ownership, household size, the gender of the household head and membership of a minority clan.
  • Preliminary public meetings explaining resource availability, project principles and targeting criteria.
  • The public election of a representative Village Relief Committee, which was responsible for compiling a preliminary beneficiary list based on the targeting criteria.
  • The vetting of the initial beneficiary list by national staff, community organisations, religious leaders and key informants, through random field visits and informal discussions.
  • The reading of the lists in public places to allow the community to participate in the vetting process.
  • All staff, including senior managers, undergo training on the ICBT methodology before implementing any project activities. This methodology has been utilised by Horn Relief in targeting for non-cash humanitarian programming, including restocking pack camels and non-food distributions in response to floods in southern Somalia.

In addition to the public vetting process, ICBT also includes ‘discreet vetting’. Public meetings are in themselves not sufficient to ensure appropriate targeting, because it is culturally inappropriate for one sub-clan to challenge the beneficiaries selected by another. To manage this, field managers are required to develop their own network of key informants to double-check the beneficiary list to ensure that registered beneficiaries fit the criteria, and that individuals who should be on the list are not excluded. Minority clans, for example, rarely benefit from resource distributions within wider clan agreements. They usually associate themselves with a majority clan for protection. One minority clan in the area approached agency staff and asked not to be given the money in public, because it would later be taken from them. Agency staff instead organised a meeting at the project office to hand over the money.

Cash management
Another interesting dimension of the project was the use of Dahabshil to distribute the cash. In some respects, the partnership worked well; there were no allegations nor was there evidence of corruption, taxation or unusual security concerns. The potential inflationary impact of significant cash injections was minimised, as Dahabshil draws as much as possible on the existing money supply, through the hawala or money-transfer system, rather than bringing in additional large amounts. Once the cash was received households gave it to their local shopkeeper to reopen a credit line, so there was no sudden increase of cash in the local economy. There were also teething problems, however, and in some areas there were ongoing difficulties with Dahabshil over communication, information-sharing and planning. This highlights the potential hazards of working closely with hawala companies, which operate as franchises on the ground, and whose internal structures and systems are not generally designed for cash-transfer projects like this. On the other hand, the hawala firms provide a critical service at the household and trading level, and are well respected.


The Oxfam–Horn Relief consortium has clearly demonstrated that cash transfers are possible in a politically complex and insecure environment. It has also shown that such projects can be done in a locally sensitive and appropriate way. The project succeeded in establishing strong partnerships and good coordination among the stakeholders, recruited good, motivated staff, ensured that preparation was sound with comprehensive training, adopted a sensitive, context-specific approach, and used a locally respected institution to handle the transport and distribution of the cash. Many of the lessons of the consortium project are replicable elsewhere, but applying them will call for good coordination and a willingness among agencies to critically assess ways of working, and to consider adapting or changing approaches if necessary.

Nisar Majid was the team leader for the independent evaluation of the Oxfam–Horn Relief cash project. His email address is: The full evaluation is available on the HPG website at