What Our Analysts Are Reading – May, 2022

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.


A new project called Orban’s Media Machine dissects how Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have sculpted the nation’s media landscape into an echo chamber of their own beliefs. The site demonstrates how Fidesz messaging permeates the lives of everyday Hungarians through a host of government-controlled media outlets, regime-aligned political pundits, and pro-Orban social media influencers all of which reference one another to boost legitimacy. The result is an almost impenetrable fog of manufactured information design to lead viewers to support the government’s stances on everything from anti-LGBTQI+ domestic policy to the response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.


Human Right Watch (HRW) contributed to the growing evidence linking the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group to the deployment of antipersonnel mines in civilian areas of Tripoli, Libya, during military operations on the behalf of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) from 2019-2020. HRW visited Tripoli in March, confirming with Libyan mine action groups working on the ground that all 35 Tripoli locations contained in a Wagner tablet computer (as obtained and reported by the BBC in August 2021) had antipersonnel mines present. The mines, banned under international law, have reportedly killed 130 people and injured 196 since May 2020. These revelations further link Wagner to civilian fatalities and human rights abuses across the African continent, including in Mali and the Central African Republic. Despite some reports of Wagner withdrawals from Libya to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Wagner operatives remain deployed in Libya.


In May 2021, Mali experienced its second coup within the span of one year, both led by the same military leader, Colonel Assimi Goïta. After the first coup in August 2020, Goïta’s military appointed an interim president and prime minster, then subsequently overthrew them nine months later in what has been termed a “coup within a coup.” Goïta then established himself as the transitional head of state, eschewing the transitional charter approved in September 2020 calling for elections to be held by February 2022 to restore civilian rule. Instead, the junta proposed a new election timeline in January 2022, calling for another five years in power. Unwilling to concede to the timeline, the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed strict sanctions on Mali, closing its borders and freezing financial transactions with the country. Meanwhile, Mali’s relations with France have deteriorated, prompting the former colonial power to withdraw troops and military forces from the country, including the cessation of the long running Operation Barkhane, a French-led counterterrorism effort in the region. A year on since the second coup, anti-French sentiment has grown across Mali, and in early May 2022 the junta reportedly foiled an attempted coup they believed to have been “Western-backed”, highlighting the increasing distrust between Mali and the “West”, while at the same time the country has been firming its relations with Russia. Furthermore, by mid-May, Mali had withdrawn from the regional G5 Sahel force, which was established in 2017 to counter armed groups in the region and includes troops from Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. As Mali further isolates, other countries in the region have welcomed Western partnership. For example, Niger’s parliament recently approved a bill that will allow the deployment of two French-led counterterrorism missions in the country—Operation Barkhane and the European Task Force Takuba—paving the way for Niger to become the main Western ally in the Sahel.


Although support from Rwandan and South African forces has been effective in reclaiming control over territory in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique from Al Shabaab (no ties to the Somali Al Shabaab), the group continues to sow instability and has begun expanding to neighboring regions and countries. A military solution, especially one that is supported by external forces, is not permanent or sustainable in the long-term. This Crisis Group article titled, “Winning Peace in Mozambique’s Embattled North,” argues that Mozambique’s partners, including South Africa and Rwanda, should push the Mozambican government to open up dialogue that may pressure insurgents to surrender, while also strengthen regional cooperation that will prevent the insurgency from expanding to neighboring countries through transnational networks.


The Atlantic Council’s DFRLab analyzed over two dozen Polish Telegram channels spreading anti-refugee disinformation amid the Ukrainian refugee crisis in Poland. Against the backdrop of the rapid influx of millions of Ukrainians, anti-refugee narratives have started to circulate more widely in the Polish social media environment, including on the increasingly popular anonymous social media platform Telegram. The DFRLab found that multiple Telegram channels shared identical anti-refugee posts and distributed similar anti-Ukrainian narratives. However, due to Telegram’s anonymity, the DFRLab could not confirm whether this was coordinated. The DFRLab concluded that around 20 percent of the analyzed Telegram channels were created after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and some channels are connected to pro-Russian Polish websites, suggesting possible links to other countries.


The Russian war on Ukraine has increased the transportation and food costs of humanitarian aid to 44 percent higher than pre-COVID-19 costs. Dr. Arif Husain, the World Food Program’s chief economist presented his top recommendations to the international community to address rising food insecurity amid decreased supply and rising prices of grain, edible oils, fertilizer, and fuel resulting from Russia’s war on Ukraine. Dr. Husain views increased donations from donor countries as vital to offset rising aid expenses, as well as ensuring poor countries’ access to financing for food, fuel and fertilizer, and ensuring affordable fertilizer in general. Not only does he advocate for Russia to remove blockades of Ukraine’s ports, but also calls upon all countries to remove export restrictions, import subsidies, sanctions, extraordinary taxes, and duties from food, humanitarian supplies, and vital agricultural inputs. Additionally, he advocates for transparency in global food markets, and recommends countries diversify their agricultural imports to not rely on a single country or primary country supplier.

RUSI delved into the effect that corruption has had on the Russian army in its war in Ukraine. Using a mixture of sources ranging from Russian blogger’s aid collection efforts, posts on Avito (a Russian classified ads site), and reports from Government of Ukraine, the RUSI report shines a light on the consequences of corrupt practices in the Russian defense industrial sector and armed forces. As the war drags on, analyzing these factors helps give context to reports of logistics issues and poorly trained troops.


This article titled, “Women, Conflict, and Peace: Learning from Kismayo,” relates and contextualizes the findings of a study carried out in Kismayo on the gendered nature of conflict and peace dynamics, with the goal of expanding conflict analysis in the context of Kismayo and Jubbaland more broadly. The study findings confirm that women play an important role in both inter- and intra-clan conflict, despite having little to gain and much to lose from these conflicts. The authors call for greater inclusion and participation of women in Jubbaland region’s informal and formal peace and reconciliation processes.


Political tensions in the restive Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) of Tajikistan once again flared up during the month of May. GBAO, which makes up 45 percent of Tajikistan’s territory but is home to only 3 percent of the country’s population, has a long history of anti-government sentiment and aspirations for greater autonomy. The region, which is ethnically and culturally different than the rest of Tajikistan, has also gained increased importance in regional politics due to its proximity to Afghanistan. Conflicts between demonstrators, who were protesting the refusal of local government officials to listen to residents’ demands, and police forces turned violent on 16 MAY 22. Casualties related to the conflict were unclear as the Tajik government disconnected the region from the internet, however estimates place the number killed at around 20-30 individuals. On 22 MAY 22, police forces killed Mahmadboqir Mahmadboqirov, an influential civil society leader, sparking further protests and subsequent police crackdowns. In the 10 days since, government forces have conducted numerous ‘operations‘ against ‘organized criminal groups’ and ‘terrorist cells’ with numerous casualties, which local residents claim are merely peaceful protesters. The struggle between locals and increasingly intrusive government forces is likely to continue in a conflict highlighted by convoluted information environments and competing claims on the true nature of the ongoing events in GBAO.


As the war in Ukraine continued into May, Casey Michel, the author of America’s Kleptocracy, discussed Ukrainian oligarchs’ attempts at rebranding their corrupt images amid the international focus on the Russian war in Ukraine. Michel asserts that with Western media attention on the war, opportunistic Ukrainian oligarchs with ties to Russia, like Dmitro Firtash (sanctioned by the US and Ukraine), Viktor Pinchuk (sanctioned steel and media tycoon), and others, have taken steps to improve their images as patriotic Ukrainians. Michael argues these oligarchs employ public relations professionals, bank Western university programs, and pen op-eds in top Western media outlets as tactics in their larger strategy to establish a safe and profitable position for themselves. Michel warns there is no such thing as a pro-Western oligarch.


ACAPS’ series of conversations with 17 Yemeni families in Abyan, Aden, Hadramawt, and Sana’a City uncovered some major new ways that Yemeni families are coping with eight years of ongoing war. Social connections are a source of financial and mental coping in times of outside stressors, but social safety nets and social ties are weakening. While women who previously did not work outside the home have been starting new businesses to make ends meet for their families, helped by social media to expand their customer base, other families have had to decrease their social interactions over not being able to afford special occasion gifts or to be able to reciprocate an invitation. Additionally, as rising prices strain the budgets of an increasing amount of households, fewer households have food or money to spare to give or lend to relatives, friends, and neighbors in need.