What Our Analysts Are Reading – March, 2021

What Our Analysts Are Reading — March, 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

The metrics of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen are staggering to the point of incomprehension: 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, with many areas on the verge of famine. The scale of the suffering is what short documentary Hunger Ward attempts to make comprehensible, focusing on two medical facilities located in territory controlled by opposing factions in the country’s conflict. The film, released in 2020 and currently making the rounds at film festivals, puts child hunger and starvation in sharp focus in chronicling the daily uphill battle Nurse Mekkia Mahdi—at a northern clinic—and Dr. Aida Al-Sadeeq—at a hospital in the south—fight to save malnourished children.

The film illustrates a number of important dynamics of food insecurity in conflict. Nurse Mahdi explains to the family of one patient that she has developed a gluten allergy, a common occurrence among families that subsist on wheat provided by relief agencies. The child’s father highlights that he had exhausted all of his options, having already sold his livestock. Yemeni’s livelihoods have been crippled by the conflict, a trend made even worse by COVID-19,  leaving Yemenis with few coping strategies. The documentary revolves around mothers, girls, and female doctors, which also serves to highlight the role of gender in food insecurity. The roots of childhood malnutrition often lie in the period when mothers are pregnant and nursing; there are an estimated 1.2 million pregnant and nursing women in Yemen currently. Again, this trend is more dire due to COVID-19, as the healthcare system has shifted its focus to treating COVID-19. 

Beyond the scope of The Hunger Ward are several other under explored food security issues in Yemen. In mid-April, 2020, the World Food Program (WFP) cut humanitarian aid by half due to a funding shortage, reducing distributions from monthly to every other month. At the same time the COVID-19 pandemic reached Yemen, with a mortality rate more than five times the global average. And while Yemen struggles to feed its own population, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported at least 37,500 migrants, predominantly from the Horn of Africa, entered Yemen in 2020. The number of migrants into Yemen has increased in recent years due to political and economic instability and droughts caused by climate change in the Horn of Africa, making it the “busiest maritime migration route on earth.”  


In this article, Navanti analyst Charlotte Kamin dissects the Biden administration’s limited policy options in resolving the ongoing Ma’rib conflict, as well as broader prospects for peace in Yemen. Amidst the renewed Houthi military campaign to take over the strategic city of Marib, which has already displaced thousands, President Biden and his new special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, have stressed the need for diplomatic solutions to end the conflict. However, Houthi intransigence and a complete lack of leverage over the group offers little hope for diplomatic success. Kamin argues that the US cannot prematurely pursue a political settlement in Yemen while the Houthi assault on Marib threatens to radically shift the balance of power in the war. While the administration lacks any good options, Kamin explores alternative policy options at Biden’s disposal. — Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies


The cost of insecurity is measured in human life, but often reported in only numerical and geographic terms: “so-many people died, as Y-group recaptured A-town from Z.” Though pragmatic and important, this type of reporting alone blunts the true consequences of conflict. For that reason, investigative organizations like HumAngle are important, balancing macro-level reporting with micro-level analyses. HumAngle has run stories on military abuse, the failures of insurgent rehabilitation programs, and the challenges of being married to an accused terrorist, among other social phenomenon underpinning conflict in northeast Nigeria. More recently, they’ve begun a weekly podcast series. These short, five-minute episodes narrate the human consequences of conflict by those experiencing it. These ground the numbers and geography of war into something more real and more accessible. — Humangle Media

Despite their proximity to the Niger capital of Niamey, communities in rural Tillabery region remain fairly isolated from both the national government and, increasingly, from each other. Isolation and mistrust has hindered government efforts to address the security crisis and has facilitated Islamic State – Greater Sahara’s (ISGS) entry into the region as it exploits local conflicts and gaps in service provision to insert itself into communities. In this context, the authors argue that the government of Niger must treat ISGS as not only a security threat, but as a governance competitor that will require a combination of military and political efforts and dialogue with insurgents to effectively combat. — Crisis Group

The Foresight Africa 2020 report explores six broader themes that should provide Africa with an array of opportunities to encourage more inclusive growth and assist African countries in overcoming obstacles. The second chapter titled “Deepening Good Governance” details the implications of future trends such as climate change, demographics, and urbanizations on the security landscape of the continent. The authors of the report argue that security outcomes of the continent will be influenced in many ways. For instance, population booms may have a negative impact on the environment and desertification in the Sahel region may exacerbate tensions in already marginalized and fragile communities making them even more susceptible to VEO influence and extremism. Urbanization would lead to expanding slums in megacities such as Johannesburg, Lagos, Cairo, and Nairobi incubating other social contributors to violence. The report proposes that addressing these challenges will require a comprehensive effort that includes building of capable institutions, leveraging technology, strengthening state-society relationships, and enhancing local resource mobilization. — Brookings


One of the key problems inhibiting Russia’s economic growth is the amount of Russian wealth kept in offshore accounts. The Bell published an investigation that shows that Russian capital is being held in the United Arab Emirates and Thailand instead of the previously popular locations in Latvia and Cyprus. Furthermore, The Bell reports that if a foreigner opens a company in the UAE, that automatically recognizes the owner as a resident of the UAE, which in turn permits that owner to open accounts in Europe as an Emirati. While this understanding between the UAE and wealthy Russian businesspeople is effective for the time being, The Bell asserts that it is likely that this loophole will not last much longer. — The Bell

A recently released GlobalSec report looks at the presence of China in the wider Black Sea region. The report concludes that China sees the wider Black Sea region as important to its global geoeconomic strategy to connect East Asia to Western Europe. China is not the only major economic player in the region—two other players include Russia, and Turkey. All three of the countries have developed their own form of economic initiatives: China, Belt and Road; Russia, Eurasian Economic Union; and Turkey, The Middle Corridor. But according to the report, the three do not necessarily see their programs as competing, but rather complementary, claiming “there is a natural synergy between them”. — Globe Security

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (DASS) for Europe and Eurasian Affairs gave an interview to Voice of America discussing US-Ukraine relations under the Biden Administration. DASS Kent spoke about the need for Ukraine to address corruption which includes Ukraine carrying out necessary judicial reforms. He also addressed concerns of Russian escalation in the Donbas. — Voice of America

Moldova and Georgia both descended into political turmoil at the start of the year. In some ways, the two countries’ political crisis are similar. As Cenusa points out, the crises both are in some way a result of oligarchic influence over democratic institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic struggles have been emboldened by the crises in the two countries as the battle between political parties continues to steal necessary attention from the pandemic response. — New Eastern Europe