Access obstruction in conflict settings has emerged as a critical operational and policy concern across the humanitarian sector, but there remains a dearth of analysis regarding the ways in which humanitarian organizations perpetuate self-inflicted access obstacles. Drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with local and international actors negotiating frontline humanitarian access in Somalia, this paper will examine the ways in which this context elucidates this phenomenon. Toward this end, this paper examines two dimensions of humanitarian access obstruction in this context. The first set of dynamics consists of externally imposed obstacles that stem from governmental actors, Al-Shabaab, access "gatekeepers" motivated by financial gain, and the insecure nature of the environment. The second set of dynamics consists of self-inflicted dimensions of access obstruction that emanate from decisions that international humanitarian organizations (IHOs) have made at the strategic or policy level. These issues include the physical "bunkerization" of IHOs, programmatic shortcomings, the discounting of local humanitarian actors' agency, and the ways that IHOs exhibit programmatic partiality in response to donors' interests and counterterrorism legislation. Through examining these issues, this paper highlights fact that, although the discourse on humanitarian access obstruction tends to emphasize difficulties arising from externally imposed obstacles, it is also important to interrogate the value and methods of humanitarian programming itself.
Despite decades of development programming for a country once upheld as a “model democracy” in Africa, Mali remains a country destabilized by extreme poverty; escalating violence and instability; and diminishing prospects for Malians’ futures in education, livelihoods, and stability. Even in light of an ongoing international presence and intervention in the country, and millions of dollars raised and spent each year on humanitarian programming, the persistent degradation of governance, livelihoods, and security continues.
What drives this state of affairs? How have international and regional actors contributed to sustaining a stagnating state at the expense of civilian populations and in the interest of preventing transnational Sahelian turmoil from expanding into the Maghreb and beyond to
European borders? What are the expectations and aspirations of local communities as they navigate the interconnected influences of extremist groups, government actors, and international military forces?
This paper examines these questions and offers reflections on various dynamics of the international response and the perceptions of local communities in this context. In particular, this analysis assesses the viability of the “triple nexus” concept, which aims—in protracted
and complex crises such as Mali—to forge an operational and policy alignment between international peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian efforts. The paper is based on a desk analysis of relevant literature, as well as over 130 interviews and consultations
undertaken with a variety of stakeholders, including government and non-state armed group representatives, civil society members, activists, journalists, humanitarians, analysts, diplomats, entrepreneurs, beneficiaries, displaced people, and students. The interviews were conducted in Mali, particularly in Bamako and in Central Mali, as well as abroad, between December 2018 and March 2019. The paper proceeds in four parts. Part I examines the key elements driving instability in this context. Part II focuses on international responses. Part III discusses the implications for the “triple nexus.” Part IV offers concluding remarks.