What Our Analysts Are Reading – May, 2020


RIK journalists, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and Management and Labor New Style (MANS) collaborated to produce this investigative report on the connections between the criminal underground, the government, and members of Serbian President Aleksandr Vucic’s family. This article follows the fall of one leader and the rise of a new crime family, leading to a bloody struggle for power. —  Krik (Serbian) 

East Africa

A second wave of desert locusts in Africa and Asia threatens famine for millions as critical resources are redirected towards the COVID-19 outbreak. Desert locusts are already swarming in East Africa and breeding in Iran and Pakistan, as well as in Yemen. According to the World Bank, the locust population could grow 400 times larger by June 2020 and spread to new areas. It is estimated that more than 90 million hectares of cropland and pasture are at risk in Africa alone. The outbreak has placed around 20 million people in acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania since last year. While governments in the region have diverted resources to control COVID-19, neglecting the locust invasion, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says efforts to control the locust outbreaks from the air and on the ground are ongoing—more than 240,000 hectares have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides across the East Africa region and 740 people have been trained up to conduct ground locust control operations. — Science and Development Network

Eastern Europe 

Moldova-based independent news outlet, Newsmaker, provides a succinct analysis of COVID-19-related conspiracy theories, rumors, and fake news circulating on social media in Moldova and throughout Eastern Europe. The article breaks down several streams of disinformation into groups and tracks their origin and spread. — Newmaker

The Boogaloo movement is a pro-gun, anti-government internet community that has become increasingly visible in American protests over the past few years. The followers of this movement believe that a new civil war is inevitable and seek to accelerate its arrival by fomenting violent unrest. To this end, boogaloo activists attend protests seeking to escalate tensions. Given the interconnected nature of online extremism, it is possible “boogaloo” ideology and tactics will emerge in the protests of Eastern Europe and beyond. — Bellingcat

West Africa

Closed borders between Mauritania and Senegal in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have increased opportunities for trafficking, with collusion between traders and law enforcement. Traffickers motivated by profit charge high prices to transport goods and people across borders for sums that can quadruple the normal price of transportation, leading to a situation that has contributed to the spread of COVID-19. With a recent spike in cases in the area, authorities are strengthening measures to stop trafficking by involving the army in security enforcement of entrances to major cities and between regions and in the management of the spread of the virus. — WalFadjri Group (French)

The United Nations says the COVID-19 pandemic could cause the number of food insecure West Africans to double to 43 million in the next six months, in part due to trade restrictions imposed by governments as border delays and curfews are immobilizing the trade of perishable goods and livestock. Data from the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) shows West African trade of perishable produce and livestock has seen losses of 10% to 30% since health restrictions began, while illegal tax collection at checkpoints has leapt to nearly 50%. A separate survey by Réseau Billital Maroobé, a collective of West African herders, showed economic activities at a standstill for 42% of herders in the region as of mid-May. Although governments have carved out exemptions for trade, informal trade remains vulnerable to COVID-19 restrictions since the vast majority of commerce sector does not show up in official statistics. — Reuters


Despite Houthi attempts to mask the breadth of the COVID-19 outbreak within Sana’a, civilian reporting has provided insight into the tragedy unfolding in the city. Poor health infrastructure and an increasingly restrictive reporting environment has compounded difficulties in mitigating the spread of the virus. Although 320 civilians have reportedly died of COVID-19 related illnesses in the capital, the Houthis have continued to take a relaxed stance towards combatting the virus. Mareb Press —  (Arabic)

After two weeks of fighting in Abyan between the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) National Army (NA) and Southern Transitional Council (STC) backed forces in Abyan, STC President Aidarous al-Zubaydi traveled to Riyadh with a delegation to meet Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Since the STC’s declaration of self-administration of the temporary capital of Aden, tensions have been steadily rising between the NA and STC forces. Despite temporary lulls in fighting, differing views on how governance should be implemented in Yemen’s South are likely to frustrate the KSA’s ability to mediate peace between the two sides. Al-Araby —  (Arabic)