What Our Analysts Are Reading – February, 2021

What Our Analysts Are Reading — February, 2021

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. Our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, these analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important pieces they have read and listened to over the past month.

Food Security

Nearly 60 percent of Syrians are currently food insecure, according to recent national data from the World Food Program, an increase of 4.5 million people since last year. The WFP estimates the number of those who are severely food insecure and unable to survive without food assistance has doubled in the past year to 1.3 million.  Over the last year, the price of basic food items has increased by 236 percent while the value of the Syrian Pound has decreased; thus, the cost to feed a household each month exceeds average salaries. The deteriorating food security situation is primarily a result of ongoing conflict and high levels of displacement, compounded by an ongoing economic crisis since 2019. In addition, job loss stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has further eroded the economic conditions. Many families have reported resorting to coping mechanisms such as skipping meals, going into debt, and selling assets and livestock to survive. — Relief Web

A report compiled by FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) found that as many as 2.7 million people across Somalia are expected to face high levels of food insecurity through mid-2021 in the absence of humanitarian assistance. The main drivers of acute food security in the country include the compounding effects of poor and erratic rainfall distribution, flooding, desert locust infestation, socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, and conflict.

Vulnerable populations are already experiencing declines in food and income sources. In 2020, cereal production between September and December was 20 percent below the 1995-2019 average as a result of these effects. In pastoral areas, the lack of rainfall has led to water scarcity and pasture shortages, resulting in reduced livestock milk product availability for consumption. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and urban poor across the country are expected to face moderate to severe food consumption gaps through mid-2021, partly due to the decline in external remittances and the economic slowdown from COVID-19. — Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU)


The Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) – previously and better known as Libyan National Army (LNA) – are a divisive actor. Khalifa Haftar’s forces have been variably described as everything from legitimate forces of the Libyan state, to a ragtag alliance of militias, to a Ponzi scheme. According to Chatham House’s Tim Eaton, the term “hybrid armed actor” best reflects the LAAF’s complex ties to state institutions and simultaneous de facto control of territory through informal bargaining processes. Eaton contends that thinking about the LAAF through the lens of hybridity can help policymakers more effectively engage with the LAAF and Haftar. — War on the Rocks

This article discusses the historical roots of the crisis in Mali’s Mopti region before turning to a modern challenge: in the face of government absence, jihadist groups have begun to serve as peace brokers in many areas, resolving resource conflicts between largely Dogon farmers and Fulani herders. The authors argue that in order to achieve lasting peace, international security partners should begin by identifying local peace agreements already in effect and consider how to include jihadists in these agreements. — Danish Institute for International Studies

The insecurity experienced in Nigeria is universal. From the south-south to the northeast region, personal safety is threatened as a response to economic, political, and ethnic marginalization. Marginalization is especially severe in the northwest of Nigeria, where kidnappings for ransom are a daily occurrence and have been highlighted by the abduction of an American in October and more than 300 school children in December. Despite non-violent origins, responses to insecurity in Nigeria’s northwest have largely been militaristic, intensified marginalization, and reproduced a cycle of insecurity. Removing themselves from that cycle to reevaluate how state actors interact with bandits is Ahmad Gumi, who is working with marginalized communities and trying to reintegrate them into Nigerian society. In this interview he speaks to the complicated dynamics of insecurity in northwestern Nigerian, as well as what should done about it. This framework, like the problem it is evaluating, can be universal. — Daily Trust

The central government of Kenya has adopted preventive measures that have offered more sustainable solutions to counter terrorism in Kenya.  Key security actors, including the national and local government, civil society organizations, international organizations, development partners and local communities, have garnered experience and capacity dealing with violent extremism and radicalization.  As a result of this improved collaboration, the country has enjoyed greater security and reduced terror attacks. However, the counties that lie in the north eastern and coastal parts of the country require additional engagement given their high risk of terrorism. Informal settlements in the urban counties of Nairobi and Mombasa, such as Kibera, should not be overlooked. Military interventions and counter-terrorism efforts by foreign partners could be counter-productive and should be considered cautiously. — Institute for Security Studies

Embattled Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni faces major criticism from Western allies following an election marred by violence and corruption. Prior to the elections, Museveni instituted an internet ban, deployed the military and violently shut down any protests. Post-election, his administration continued to ban all opposition including a temporary expansion of the internet ban, as well as expanding harassment of political parties, politicians, and civil society groups. After claiming victory, Museveni’s sixth term in office remained under scrutiny, with his challenger Bobi Wine attempting to overturn the election results in court. Museveni’s behavior has not only attracted international attention, but it has opened the door for further investigations into other avenues of his administration, including his use of aid and his treatment of refugees. The United States supplies $970 million in aid, which may now be at risk depending on the US’s response. — The New York Times  


Warsaw-based information security foundation Info Ops Polska provides an overview of Russian influence operations targeting relations between Poland and Lithuania. Centered around manipulative messaging operations that aim to shape a negative image of Polish-Lithuanian relations among Polish and Lithuanian societies, narratives exploited by Russian propaganda outlets such as Sputnik include negative portrayals of the general bilateral relationship, cross-border energy cooperation, military cooperation, and the Polish minority in Lithuania. —  INFO OPS POLSKA

Legal scholar Dr. Radosveta Vassileva writes in New Eastern Europe about violence and sexism against women in Bulgaria. In a controversial decision in 2018, Bulgarian authorities decided against ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which is aimed at preventing violence against women and domestic violence. Dr. Vassileva details how current laws in Bulgaria do not provide adequate protection for women and outlines clear changes that the government needs to make, including: providing shelter and mental health support for victims, creating a database and collecting data on all forms of gender-based violence, and amending legislation to criminalize martial rape and recognize all forms of gender-based violence. While Bulgaria’s government claims to be taking steps to address violence against women and gender inequality, the UN expressed concerns that their actions seem to state otherwise—notably the closures and suspensions of some NGOs that work for women’s rights and gender equality. — New Eastern Europe

Georgia’s democracy took a turn for the worst when police stormed the offices of the opposition UNM party, using tear gas and force to detain the party’s leader Nika Melia. Many have criticized the ruling party’s decision to detain Melia, including the international community and former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who resigned in protest of the decision earlier this month. Politico provides a brief primer on what is happening and how it has progressed since the November 2020 parliamentary elections. — Politico EU  

A comprehensive report by the Crimea SOS NGO details the inhumane prison conditions and torture of 35 Crimean political prisoners held in Crimea and Russia, 18 of which are still in detention. The report highlights a plethora of human rights violations including those carried out at a Russian-controlled pre-trial detention center described as housing “the most inhuman and cruel conditions of detention among Crimean detention facilities.” The center, limited to 747 persons, has reportedly housed up to 1800 persons at various times. Russian authorities continue to arrest Crimeans on the Russian-occupied peninsula with little to no evidence of legal wrong-doing. — Crimea SOS

Analysts from the News Lines Institute dissect the history and reach of the Islamic State in the North Caucasus. The Vilayat Kavkaz, the Caucasian province of the caliphate, was formed out of the remains of the Caucasus Emirate, an extremist group created in 2007 from the remnants of the Chechen rebellion. The territory claimed by the Vilayat stretches through North Ossetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan in the Russian Federation, as well as in eastern Georgia. The proximity of the group poses a direct threat to the Shi’a majority Azerbaijan and to regional stability as a whole. — New Lines Institute


In Yemen, intense fighting between Ansar Allah and Yemeni government forces broke out in Ma’rib governorate in early February 2021 and has continued, causing the displacement of more than 8,000 people, especially in the Sirwah district where the fighting is concentrated. The governorate already hosts more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the largest IDP population in Yemen. Many of these IDPs have been displaced several times over the course of the conflict since 2015. United Nations experts warn that another 385,000 people could be displaced should fighting move into Ma’rib City and surrounding areas, while humanitarian access would be further limited. — Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Throughout February 2021, the Houthis have rapidly escalated their offensive on Ma’rib city, the Republic of Yemen Government’s last bastion in the north. The clashes have largely been concentrated to the city’s western and southern outskirts – areas where large communities of IDPs have settled after fleeing frontline fighting elsewhere in Yemen. The UN has stated that renewed fighting in Ma’rib threatens to trigger a new wave of displacement, forcing IDP families to once again relocate to new parts of Yemen in response to Houthi-ROYG fighting. — Crater

In January, the UN Yemen Panel of Experts released a report implicating the ROYG in the misappropriation of roughly $423 million provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to finance food imports. While the ROYG has agreed to allow for an independent investigation, several business sector representatives have warned that the UN’s allegations against the ROYG would adversely impact local business owners’ ability to procure basic commercial goods. These dynamics may portend more restrictions on the food supply in Yemen. — Al-Masdar Online