What Our Analysts Are Reading – April, 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.


In Nigeria, 2020 agricultural loses were significant due to unpredictable rainfall early in the planting season. Rains started earlier than usual, everyone planted seeds, then rainfall abruptly stopped for five weeks, causing many to lose their crops. The losses were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, making it difficult for rural farmers to access additional resources.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the government agency documenting weather and climate data says rising temperatures, more frequent and persistent heat and cold waves, severe coastal and inland floods, and ravaging windstorms are clear indicators of climate change in the country. According to a 2020 report by Nigeria’s Department for International Development (DFID), without climate change adaptation, losses could total as much as 30 percent of Nigeria’s GDP, or USD 460 billion, by 2050.

Experts in climate change and agriculture believe that adapting to the changing situation is crucial for Nigeria, whose livelihood occupation of the majority of its population is subsistence farming. Furthermore, women account for 70 percent of agricultural workers and 80 percent of total food producers. With the near non-existence of extension programs in Nigeria, rural women farmers need more education on climate change in addition to government interventions to continue with their farming. These experts insist that with the right kind of knowledge, women farmers can act as extension officers to spread knowledge of improved agricultural techniques across rural areas. At a national level, the Nigerian government ratified the Paris Agreement aimed at tackling climate change in 2017. Through this, it has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent before 2030 when compared to levels without intervention.

As international intervention into conflict in the Sahel enters its eighth year, the risk of violence faced by civilians in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso is greater than nearly at other point since that intervention began. The discourse around combatting extremism often centers around security operations and extremist attacks, while ignoring civilians who are collateral to these events and who will be essential in ensuring the end to any conflict. Highlighting this untenable scenario and suggesting changes to it, a network of more than 40 NGOs and civil society organizations have come together to create a framework for civilian-centered approaches to conflict resolution in the Sahel.

Although the involvement of women in jihadist combat in the Sahel remains rare, women nevertheless play significant roles in the support of violent extremism. International Alert conducted a qualitative study to examine how and why women are involved in supporting violent extremism in the central Sahel, as well as the impact of gender roles on men’s involvement in violent extremism. They found that women’s support for violent extremism depends on a number of factors, including the level of violence exerted by the extremist group(s) against civilians, as well as religious and social norms. The authors of the report also found that in areas under jihadist influence, “jihadist governance” policies are often not much more conservative, and in some cases are even more progressive with regard to gender than state policies and preexisting local norms. The capacity of jihadist governance to resonate with the ideals and aspirations of rural communities, including marginalized segments of these communities, helps to explain how jihadist groups are able to entrench themselves in communities.

Drawing on her perspective as a participant delegate, Elham Saudi from Lawyers for Justice in Libya takes a deep dive into the process of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) that recently produced the Government of National Unity (GNU). Saudi focuses on the importance of process in peace building, expressing concern that the United Nations prioritized political expediency over constitutional, human rights and transitional justice issues at the LPDF. She suggests that the outcome-focused decisions taken and the central issues avoided during the LPDF will come back to haunt Libya. The interview is valuable listening for anyone interested in conflict resolution, peace building, transitional justice and civil society.


A new Bellingcat report found that several sabotage and assassination attempts across Europe were from 2014-2018 were connected through the GRU Unit 29155 as part of a campaign to disrupt Ukraine’s military capabilities to repel Russian and Russian-backed forces in its territory. These operations included a 2014 explosion at a munitions storage facility in Czechia, a series of poisonings in Bulgaria in 2015, the 2014 coup attempt in Montenegro, operations in Switzerland in 2016-2017, possible involvement in the 2017 Catalonia independence referendum, and the attempted Sergei Scribal assassination in the United Kingdom in 2018. This article is part of a larger investigation analyzing these events and the GRU officers involved in them.

GLOBALSEC released a report on perceptions of Russia by countries in Central & Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. The report looks at how Russia’s confrontational foreign policy approaches have been interpreted by countries in the region and to what extent they have been successful in shoring up support for Russia. The report uses a play on the Russian bear theme, labelling countries as either bear huggers, bear feeders, or bear skeptics.

In a detailed investigative report, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details the connection between stolen money from Ukraine and the ownership of a troubled steel mill in the northern Ohio town of Warren. The steel mill was used as a vessel to embezzle hundreds of millions out of PrivatBank in Ukraine and into the United States by notorious oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.

Genocide scholar Dr. Hikmet Karcic wrote an opinion piece in TRT warning of the destabilizing influence of far-right political actors in the Balkans. He posits that coordination between various far right leaders, such as Viktor Orban, Milrad Dodik, and Aleksandr Vucic is eroding democracy in the region, and may even pose a direct threat to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty. The most recent evidence of far-right normalization can be found in the 2020 elections Montenegro and the rising trend of genocide denial in the region.

Middle East

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has indefinitely delayed parliamentary elections set for May 22 citing Israeli refusal to allow voting for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. However, critics have claimed the delay is a strategic step in order to avoid an outcome where Fatah loses power to one of two splinter political groups or emboldens Hamas. Continued delays and political gridlock have left the Palestinian political sphere deeply divided with no hope for unification in sight.

In late March 2021, Iran and China signed a comprehensive agreement aimed at deepening economic and military relations between the two countries. The agreement stipulates that Iran will receive $400 billion in Chinese investment over the next 25 years, concentrated in the banking, telecommunications, infrastructure, information technology, and health care sectors, in exchange for providing China with oil. The agreement also includes provisions for joint military training and exercises and cooperation in researching and developing new weapon systems. The move likely represents a Chinese attempt to cultivate stronger ties with actors within the Middle East as US-Iranian relations remain strained.

In April, the Houthis in Yemen escalated their child indoctrination efforts through reforms to the Houthi-run education sector.  Education Minister, Yahya Badr al-Din al-Houthi, replaced 27 educational directors with Houthi loyalists and continued to advance Zaidi ideological curricula in schools. Such reforms represent persistent Houthi efforts to sharpen sectarian rhetoric and build staunch loyalty among youth living in areas under the group’s control. Former educators reported that such activity has expanded since the arrival of the Iranian ambassador to the Houthis, Hassan Irloo, to Sana’a. Indoctrination efforts may be further aimed at recruiting child soldiers, who the Houthis have reportedly heavily relied upon in their recent advance on Mar’ib.

Since 2019, more than 50 percent of Lebanon’s population has fallen into poverty due to economic collapse. The Lebanese pound has lost most nearly 90 percent of its value and has continued to depreciate. At least 22 percent of Lebanese, 50 percent of Syrian refugees, and 33 percent of refugees of other nationalities are facing some level of food insecurity. The price of a World Food Program (WFP) food basket, regarded as the bare minimum to survive, more than doubled in 2020 and has continued to rise in 2021. The WFP is currently assisting almost 1.5 million people in the country, or around one in six people. In addition to ongoing economic struggles, Saudi Arabia recently announced an indefinite ban on Lebanese agricultural products in response to the discovery of drugs being smuggled out of Lebanon into the Saudi Arabian port Jeddah, hidden in a shipment of pomegranates. This news is devastating to Lebanon’s farmers, who are already finding it difficult to make a living from agriculture. Farmers sell their yield in Lebanese pounds, which has lost 85 percent of its value against the US dollar, but buy agricultural inputs at the US dollar rate, causing input and fuel costs to be extremely high but profits low.