What Our Analysts Are Reading — 12/25

Navanti’s data collection and analysis are based on networks of on-the-ground researchers from all walks of life: journalists, academics, and humanitarian workers, to name a few. But our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, Navanti analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important articles they read over the past two weeks, and added some insightful recent quotes from researchers. Some of these articles are breaking news items, while others are academic studies published months ago; all will advance the reader’s understanding of current conflict dynamics.


East Africa

Violent extremist organizations (VEO) are using propaganda and spreading disinformation to offset losses on the ground and maintain influence among target populations, according to AFRICOM’s deputy director of operations, Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos. Castellanos argues in a November 8 article that organizations like Al Shabaab (AS) rely on disinformation to downplay battlefield setbacks, and create an information imbalance on issues related to any progress in diplomacy, development and defense in Somalia. Castellanos explains that strategies must be developed to counteract AS’s propaganda and better reflect efforts on the ground. — Military Times

Somali telecommunications company Hormuud Telecom has been proven to be a major financier of AS, despite the company’s denial of any link with AS. The relationship is based on mutual benefits: Hormuud’s support of the extremist organization has allowed it to expand its operations in areas controlled by AS, where competitors feel threatened. Conversely, Hormuud facilitates and supports AS operations. Although this relationship may be lucrative in the short-term, it is unsustainable in the long-term, as AS has previously killed Hormuud employees over disagreements. — International Policy Group

Kenyans of Somali descent appear to fear the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) more than AS, due to the KDF’s aggressive treatment of ethnic Somalis, likely as a form of collective punishment for AS’s attacks in Kenya. This type of behavior only serves to radicalize the ethnic Somali population of Kenya, as AS often exploits grievances caused by the marginalization and discrimination that Somalis face in Kenya. — The Washington Post

A Navanti researcher, a trader in Mogadishu, had this to say about AS activity in Kenya: “The AS strategy in Kenya is completely different from its strategy in Somalia, where it targets anyone associated with the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). In Kenya, AS selectively targets only non-ethnic Somali Kenyans, which creates chasms between Kenyans and as a result makes AS seem like freedom fighters for the oppressed ethnic Somali communities in Kenya. Eventually, the ongoing violence in northeastern Kenya could see these regions becoming more restless and lawless, and it could even have a ripple effect on other regions in Kenya, particularly Muslim-dominant coastal areas, where communities could have grievances related to marginalization and police brutality.”


West Africa

The security situation in Burkina Faso has deteriorated significantly in 2019, posing a challenge for humanitarian agencies which are struggling to keep up with increasing need. While the situation is worst near the border with Mali, where armed groups are working to establish themselves across the border, other regions are now threatened due to spreading insecurity. — Lemonde (French)


North Africa

Since the much-publicized intervention of Russian mercenaries in the Libyan conflict, there has been a flurry of analysis questioning Russia’s intentions and whether its intervention may tip the balance in the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) favor. Maxim A. Suchkov argues that Russia is not a monolith — its actions in Libya are likely conducted by an assemblage of state and non-state Russian actors that lacks a unified strategic vision at this stage. For now, Russian agencies and military firms may simply be experimenting with their capabilities in Libya. — Al-Monitor

The self-immolation of Abdelwahab Hablani, 25, in protest against poverty and marginalization sparked three days of violent protests in the town of Jelma in the impoverished interior of Tunisia. Eleven people were arrested as protestors, reportedly youths between 11 and 18 years of age, threw stones at policemen and caused 20 injuries. Young people have borne the brunt of Tunisia’s struggles with high inflation, unemployment and corruption. — North Africa Post

This piece by the Libyan Institute for Investigative Journalism researches a taboo subject in Libyan society—the country’s stateless Tuareg. Libya’s Tuareg have been fighting for state recognition since the 1980s, but many remain without the national ID numbers needed for employment, the right to travel, and participation in politics. The investigation finds that hundreds of stateless Tuareg men have gone to fight as ‘guns for hire’ for Tripoli’s militias – the only open labor market for those without educational qualifications, expertise, or an ID number. — The Libyan Institute for Investigative Journalism



In response to new government anti-monopoly measures, Oil tycoon and Deputy Director of the President’s Office Ahmed Saleh al-‘Essi halted the unloading of fuel in Aden and demanded that the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) repay hundreds of millions in loans. Al-‘Essi’s ability to obstruct counter-corruption measures demonstrates how clientelist relations have strengthened throughout the conflict, and how difficult it may be to dismantle Yemen’s wartime economy. — Aden Times (Arabic)

Aden has witnessed a breakdown in security with a renewed string of assassinations in recent weeks, prompting the UAE-backed Security Zone Forces (SZF) to expand its troop presence throughout the city. The spate of violent incidents comes as Saudi Arabia struggles to implement the Riyadh Agreement, a power sharing deal between the warring Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG). The Islamic State in Yemen (IS-Y) claimed responsibility for one of the assassinations targeting an SZF commander, suggesting that VEOs and other violent actors may seek to exploit the widening security vacuum in Aden. — Al-Masdar Online (Arabic)

Following the downing of a Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) Apache Helicopter by Houthi air defenses near the Saudi-Yemeni border, Houthi forces have bolstered their air defense claims and hinted at the development of new air weapons. Houthi projectile attacks, meanwhile, have dropped dramatically since late September. The recent pivot towards air defense and away from offense may reflect progress in the ongoing Saudi-Houthi political negotiations. — Al-Hurra (Arabic)



After Iraq’s protest movement secured its first demand–the resignation of Adel Abd al-Mahdi and his government–there are indications it will secure its second: dissolving parliament and holding early parliamentary elections. — Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Arabic)

Oil from Syria’s northeastern Rumeilan fields, under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is making its way into the KRG. From there, it is likely some of this oil is transported through Turkey. Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman breaks down this complicated trade, and reports there are indications Turkey will crack down on it in the near future. — Al-Monitor


Northeast Syria’s Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration (AA) has once again emphasized its readiness to negotiate with Damascus, under Russian auspices, over the future of the region. This underscores how US President Trump’s early October decision to remove US troops from the northern Syria border has pushed the AA and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), further into the Syrian government / Russia camp. — Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Arabic)

Arabic-language news reports indicate that the Syrian Arab Army has taken control of the M4 highway, following the withdrawal of Turkish-backed rebel groups north of the road. This deal signifies the Syrian government’s steadily expanding presence in northeast Syria. If the deal holds, it will likely mean that fuel shipments from SDF-held al-Hasakah province, towards government-held Manbij, will resume along the M4. — Al-Modon (Arabic)


Eastern Europe and the Balkans

Latvia’s refusal to let a Russian pop star in the country has led to an outcry from Russian media, underscoring how United States’ Magnitsky Act is having implications across Europe. — The Center for European Policy Analysis

With the city of Mostar’s mayor ill in a hospital, the Bosnian city faces an unusual quandary: it has no easy method of replacing him should he leave his seat. — Radio Free Europe

A government shakeup in Finland has propelled five women into leadership positions, including 34-year-old Sanna Marin, who is slated to be Finland’s youngest prime minister ever. — Washington Post