What Our Analysts Are Reading – August, 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.


There has been a recent deterioration of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after the government had officially declared ceasefire in late June, but then cut Tigray off from electricity, telecommunications, banking, trade, and restricted road access to the region for humanitarian organizations. The ongoing conflict has displaced around two million people in Tigray, disrupted jobs and farming activity, and has caused nearly all of the region’s five million people to need some type of assistance. However, Ethiopian foreign affairs officials have accused vital aid organizations of supporting rebel forces in Tigray by delivering weapons and equipment. Aid organizations operating in the region are regularly called spies and terrorists and accused of having hidden agendas –a rhetoric that is amplified on social media networks. International relief organizations are worried such allegations could fuel violence against aid workers by associating them with the “enemy” and further endanger staff on the frontline. The World Food Program (WFP) released a statement responding to the accusations, highlighting the organization’s long history of work with the government of Ethiopia, and their obligation to remain neutral and to speak to all parties in a conflict.

The relationship between Ethiopia and Sudan has eroded following Sudan’s rejected efforts to broker a ceasefire in the war-torn Tigray region. Over the course of the months-long conflict, Sudan has become a refuge for tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Ethiopia, which has created famine-like conditions for around 400,000 people in refugee camps in southeastern Sudan. Furthermore, there are ongoing disputes over a contested border region claimed by Sudan but used by Ethiopian farmers and over Ethiopia’s decision to move forward with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Sudan and Egypt have been at odds over since 2011.

A long-standing, divisive, and consequential military engagement, French intervention in Mali has drawn comparisons to the US in Afghanistan. With the US now having withdrawn from Afghanistan, some may portend a similar fate for French operations in the Sahel; but as a still-relevant article by Stephanie Pezard and Michael Shurkin describe, though similarities abound between the two conflicts and comparisons can be useful, there are several reasons to think that things may turn out more optimistically for France and Mali.

The high tensions between Morocco and Algeria and the events of August 24 have resulted in the progressive decline of commercial exchanges between the two countries, threatening the future of the Pedro Duran Farell natural gas pipeline (also known as the Maghreb-Europe pipeline). Over 800 miles long, the pipeline transports natural gas from Hass R’mel in Algeria to Cordoba in Spain, through Morocco. Morocco’s management of the pipeline, which expires in October 2021, might not get renewed, as Algerian natural gas increasingly competes with Qatari liquefied national gas and US exports of natural gas obtained from fracking. Algeria is now considering supplying Spain with natural gas through the Medgaz pipeline, which runs from Béni Saf in Algeria directly to Almeria in Spain. By bypassing the Pedro Duran Farell pipeline, Morocco is set to lose more than 50 million dollars of revenue per year.


A DW documentary highlighted accusations against the Ilham Aliyev government of buying itself a clean reputation in the Council of Europe with cash and concessions. German politicians such as Eduard Lintner are alleged to have received large sums of cash from Azerbaijani officials in return for favorable votes. Other German politicians are accused of corruption through ties to the Azerbaijani government, such as Mark Hauptmann.

Foreign Policy Research Institute’s analysis into Russia’s large-scale military buildup in regions near Ukraine and in occupied Crimea in spring 2021 concludes that the buildup was probably aimed at deterring future actions from NATO or the US in Ukraine. The article explores possible explanations for the buildup, including that it was used as a training exercise or served as the foundation for a potential ground assault beyond occupied Crimea and the Donbas region. The article ultimately concludes that the public and slow buildup was largely demonstrative and may have been intended as deterrence or compellence against Ukraine and the US and NATO from Russia. Despite the drawn-out buildup, it seems that Ukraine is not the target of Russia’s buildup. However, with the upcoming Belarus-Russia Zapad 2021 strategic exercise entering its active phase in several weeks, a full understanding of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine remains to be seen.

Articles have begun to emerge describing public divisions in Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia in response to those governments eager acceptance and boarding of Afghan refugees. The non-profit Global Voices recently published a piece describing this phenomenon in North Macedonia. There, right wing parties and groups have heavily politicized the issue, fitting it into xenophobic and anti-American messaging. This has been further buoyed by related online disinformation campaigns in the country. On the other hand, an article recently published in DW describes how, in Albania, public opposition does not so closely follow political lines. For Albanians the aversion to take in Afghan refugees mainly follows the narrative that Albania has enough of its own challenges and crisis’s. According to this way of thinking, the government should therefore focus on addressing these, rather than supposedly importing the challenges of other groups of people.

Georgian political analysts expressed their concerns to the Caucasian Knot that the government’s refusal of European Union help runs counter to Georgia’s interests. The financial aid from the EU is a part of an agreement the Union brokered between the ruling Georgia Dream party and the opposition to end the political crisis that gripped the country after the parliamentary elections of October 2020. Analysts worry that the refusal of this aid is part of Georgia Dream ploy to hold on to power and will be a blow to the country’s fragile economy.

Middle East 

In war-torn Yemen, the demand for firewood is soaring due to fuel shortages, which have forced people to turn to firewood to cook food, and to logging as a source of work in response to the increased demand. The fuel shortages are due to a coalition blockage on Houthi-controlled areas, including limited access to the main port in Al Hudaydah. The alliance says the blockade is necessary to foil arms smuggling. There are concerns that the ongoing fuel crisis has compounded the risk of deforestation. Around 886,000 trees are cut down annually to supply bakeries and restaurants in the capital, Sana’a City, alone. Around five million trees have been cut down over the last five years across northern Yemen. In regions like Al Mahwit, known for its expansive tree cover, several types of acacia, cedar, and spruce are disappearing. Loggers with the financial means can buy an acacia tree from landowners for the equivalent of around $100 and then sell the logs to traders who transport them to cities. A five-tonne truck of logs is worth between $300-700 USD in Sana’a City. In Yemen, forests are largely privately owned and poor families have traditionally been allowed to chop wood freely as long as they left the stump. However, many now uproot the whole tree, leaving nothing for regeneration.

Houthi forces conducted an attack targeting southern forces at a military base in Lahij governorate on 29 August 2021, killing upwards of 40 soldiers and wounding dozens more. The attack, carried out by missiles or UAV loitering munitions,  struck a section of the al-Anad military base housing the 3rd al-Amalaqah Brigade as they assembled for training. Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani condemned the attack as a continuation of the Houthis’ escalatory actions. Notably, the attack came two years after a similar strike at the same base killed southern military commander Munir Mohammed al-Yafi that sparked the conflict between the Southern Transitional Council and the Internationally recognized government.

As Yemen’s new school year started in August, over two million children are out of school, with half a million of them displaced children who are not able to physically access formal education. Hundreds of schools are closed due to wartime damage or funding shortages, and thousands more lack sufficient staff or supplies. Meanwhile, an unknown number of children have been pulled out of school to work to support their families, join armed groups underage, or early marriage – likely never to go back to school.

Patience among the Lebanese people has recently began to demonstrate further signs of wear for Hezbollah. Last month, Hezbollah militants launched rockets towards Israeli positions near the border, prompting enraged villagers––fearful of Israel retaliation––to assail the fighters’ vehicles and stall them temporarily on their way back. This incident is a further manifestation of the growing dissent against Hezbollah due to the militant group’s growing list of abuses. Among them are the utter freefall of the Lebanese pound, skyrocketing poverty levels, and the continuation of US sanctions due to Hezbollah’s recalcitrance in remaining conjoined to Iran and other extremist political allies. Perhaps paramount among these abuses was the improper storage of ammonium nitrate in the Port of Beirut (an accusation which Hezbollah continually denies responsibility), resulting in one of the world’s largest explosions last August–– at least 214 were killed, thousands were injured, and large swaths of Beirut were damaged. Although no direct, concrete link to Hezbollah is yet to be established, a claim has also emerged that the Assad Regime utilized the chemical compound in barrel bombs against Syrian rebel forces. Once considered untouchable, even from within Shiite community strongholds, Hezbollah now faces a substantial threat to its legitimacy; the realization dawns that an extremist armed militia cannot sustainably exist within a Lebanese state whilst being beholden to Iran.