What Our Analysts Are Reading – September, 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.


European Economic Review investigated the impact of official Chinese projects on political participation (defined as protests, voting in elections, and appeals for political reform) in 54 African countries between 2000 and 2014. The authors found that the geographic zones which received a larger number of Chinese projects were more likely to experience protests. The authors further found that increased numbers of projects and protests correlate with perceptions of rising Chinese influence on civilians’ domestic economy and lowered trust in their own government.


Articles abound about the deteriorating situation on the border of Belarus and Poland, with especially abhorrent stories involving migrants from the Middle East freezing to death. On Sept. 28th, Reuters noted that Polish President Andrzej Duda requested an extension of the state of emergency that allowed him to securitize the border further for an additional 60 days. Politico reported some 3,500 people have attempted to cross the 418-kilometer border between Poland and Belarus this month. With more migrants arriving daily, this situation threatens to spiral towards a migration crisis that directly affects the stability of Poland’s government.


On 23 September, Budapest hosted the the fourth annual Demographic Summit. The summit brought together right-wing leaders from across Europe and the US to discuss the “demographic crisis” facing these (white) nations in the age of immigration. Among the start speakers were Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Serbian Prime Minister Vucic, leader of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, and former US Vice President Mike Pence. Balkan Insight breaks down the various participant’s platforms, from increasing the birth rate to fighting migration to the specter of cultural Marxism.


In recent weeks, reports have emerged of a deal to bring mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group to Mali. While Reuters reported that Mali would pay $10.8 million a month to bring in about 1,000 mercenaries to train Mali’s military and provide security for senior officials, Mali’s prime minister has denied that any such deal with Wagner had been finalized, saying the reports were just “rumors and allegations.” Still, the interim government appears to be exploring options—a spokesperson for the Malian defense ministry did not deny the reports, saying “Mali intends to diversify its relationships in the medium term to ensure the security of the country.” At the same time, Russian officials have welcomed talk of a potential deal with Wagner in Mali.

Although no deal has been confirmed, it reflects a political shift in Mali and changing dynamics in the country’s international ties. The relationship between Mali and France has deteriorated following two coups since August 2020 and France’s decision to redesign its military operations in the region earlier this year. Anti-French sentiment has burgeoned amongst Malians, who accuse France of failing to contain the growing violence and the region and for pursuing a hidden agenda in the country—many Malians believe their presence has no other purpose than the exploitation of raw materials. As discontentment has risen towards France, more Russian flags have appeared during street rallies in the capital, Bamako. Meanwhile, experts believe that a deal between Mali and Russian mercenaries would increase Moscow’s influence in the region while undermining French-led operations against armed groups in the Sahel region, which could lead to an exacerbation of violence. The arrival of the Wagner Group in Mali could compel France to transfer of any remaining troops to neighboring Niger, as a political move.

Furthermore, as conflicts evolve, so too should our understandings of them. Each interpretive evolution grants a greater degree of understanding, framing analyses that are increasingly reflective of the context of the conflict. That has been the case in Mali, during its near-decade of conflict. Initially understood as a geographic issue, conflict in Mali has subsequently been interpreted to be founded on ethnic tensions and competition over agrarian resources. The authors of this piece on The Conversation have proposed an additional lens of interpretation to better understand the Malian conflict: class. Via their interpretation, it is often Malians most politically and economically disadvantaged who are most vulnerable to the the tenants violent extremism; these tenants have historically juxtaposed proletariat populations against unjust elites. This lens of interpretation does not obviate other analytical frameworks, which still hold certain truths, but provides them greater weight through compelling and complimentary evidence. Class analysis is challenging to conduct in informal economies, such as in extremist-plagued areas of Mali, but such a lens of interpretation appears better suited to identify the origins, direction, and solutions to Mali’s tragic conflict.

Middle East and North Africa

Ferid Belhaj Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region at the World Bank Group and Ayat Soliman Regional Director for the World Bank Group’s Sustainable Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa region have major recommendations for improving food insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa centered on supporting sustainable and inclusive local food systems. Reducing dependence on expensive food imports requires supporting local food agriculture through adopting the best new technologies that can also serve as an engine of job creation. Reducing the price of existing imports can also be achieved through government support for reducing commodity price volatility, and improving the efficiency of the import, transportation, and storage of imported food. Finally, emergency food assistance and social safety nets remain crucial life-saving support when local food systems are disrupted.


A recent surge in violence in Niger has been linked to the emergence of vigilante groups, formed by communities resisting jihadist rule, including the imposition of burdensome taxes levied by the militants. The presence of these self-defense groups reflects the absence of the state—after deadly attacks on Niger’s army along the Malian border in 2019 and 2020, the army withdrew, leading civilians to defend for themselves. Angered by the presence of vigilantes, jihadists have attacked communities where they are present, killing or displacing thousands of civilians.

Government officials have officially opposed vigilante groups, saying they perpetuate violence. Some of the vigilante groups that have formed are ethnic Zarma, while others are composed of Arabs and Tuaregs. On the other hand, jihadists have recruited significant numbers of Fulani pastoralists. There is a fear that the conflict will become increasingly ethicized and lead to wider inter-communal violence. Still, the government and vigilantes face a common enemy. To ease the tension, local analysts and civil society groups say the government should engage in direct talks with jihadists, and facilitate open dialogue between jihadists and communities, an idea gaining traction across the Sahel. Such tactics have led to recent agreements in Burkina Faso and Mali.