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. But our analysts also keep abreast of open source reports to inform their work. Below, Navanti analysts have summarized and contextualized the most important articles they read over the past two weeks. Some of these articles are breaking news items, while others are academic studies published months ago; all will advance the reader’s understanding of current conflict dynamics.

To see the complete roundup, which features many more article summaries and additional context, click here.

East Africa

The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) is undermining some of its own anti-VEO strategies by underestimating women’s role in Al-Shabaab (AS). Women have historically been involved in activities such as recruitment, indoctrination, and intelligence gathering for AS, and have even conducted suicide attacks. Without a coordinated federal-level intervention from the FGS, AS may attempt to exploit security forces’ assumptions regarding women to expand operations. — International Crisis Group

AS has recently spread its taxation structures into Mogadishu, affecting dozens of business owners and undermining the authority of the Somali government. — The Washington Post

In addition to taxing residents of Mogadishu, AS recently distributed cash handouts to 150 poor households in the capital city. Here's what a Navanti researcher, an engineer who lives in Mogadishu, had to say about the cash handouts: “This helps AS's image among the marginalized and disadvantaged people who AS primarily targets. The FGS is popular with the elite, and this type of AS project could further portray [AS] in the eyes of the poor as a reputable entity. The FGS needs not only to prevent such incidents from taking place in areas under its control, but also to replicate and apply this strategy in AS-controlled territories to win the hearts and minds of the people.” 

West Africa

In Burkina Faso, smaller jihadi VEOs that are reportedly allied with larger umbrella groups, like Jama’at Nasr al-Islam (JNIM) or Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS), are targeting the military to seize equipment and weapons, and to send a message to the local population about the weakness and illegitimacy of the Burkinabe state. — France24 (French)

The Nigerian military seems to be losing ground in its fight against the northwestern insurgency as experts say Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) now have more sophisticated equipment than the military, including drones. Furthermore, the army’s new “Super Camp” strategy could backfire, giving insurgents free reign over rural areas. — The New York Times


Yemen's Houthi forces claimed a massive drone attack on Saudi Arabia's Aramco oil facilities on September 14, prompting the kingdom to cut its oil production in half. The success and relative sophistication of the attack, however, has raised skepticism over the Houthi claim of responsibility, with the US asserting that it did not originate in Yemen and was rather orchestrated by Iran. — The Washington Post

A recent study on Yemen’s Cash for Nutrition program showed the positive impact of cash transfers to mothers in conflict, improving nutrition outcomes by allowing households to purchase a greater variety of nutritious foods. Households were also able to purchase non-food items without depleting assets or incurring debt. — IFPRI Policy Brief April 2019

The UN-brokered al-Hudaydah agreement employs a problematic framework that has normalized the Houthi military presence in the city, incentivized violence on other frontlines, and established a localized paradigm for peace negotiations that is not conducive to achieving a national-level settlement. — Middle East Institute


29 year old Sahar Khodayari set herself on fire on September 9th outside a courtroom in Tehran, after learning she faced up to six months in jail for sneaking into a soccer match dressed as a man. Khodayari’s father, an Iran-Iraq war veteran, stressed his love for the Iranian government in an interview with local news, stating that his daughter’s death was a result of an unrelated “mental breakdown.” This demonstrates stark generational divides in Iran between more liberal youth and their parents who lived through the Islamic Revolution. — Radio Farda (Farsi)

The head of Iran’s Chief Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi said in a speech on September 5th that the Iranian judiciary would more actively prosecute corruption. Those who followed Iran’s presidential elections in 2017 will remember Raisi as the hardline conservative who ran against Iran’s current President Hassan Rouhani. Appointed to the Chief Judiciary position by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in March 2019, many analysts believe he is being groomed to succeed Khamenei as Iran’s next Supreme Leader. — Radio Farda (Farsi)


Inter-communal tensions remain high in the disputed Ninawah Plains as the Shabak Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militia, the 30th Brigade, refuses to heed Baghdad’s order to vacate the region. The 30th Brigade is accused of receiving arms from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, making the area in northwestern Iraq a potential conflict zone for the U.S. and Iran. — AlMonitor


The Syrian government has reportedly frozen the assets of former Education Minister Hezwan al-Wez as he is investigated for corruption. Al-Wez’s case is the latest as Damascus cracks down on businessmen who made their fortunes from the Syrian conflict, including Bashar al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf. Unconfirmed media reports suggest this crackdown is related to Russian requests that the Syrian state get its finances in order. — SnackSyrian (Arabic)

Eastern Europe & The Balkans

Yevgeny Prigozhin is not merely the Kremlin’s caterer: he has been involved in everything from interfering in the 2016 US elections to deploying mercenaries to Syria in support of the Assad regime. Most recently, Prigozhin’s acolytes have been expanding their footprint in Libya, establishing ties with Khalifa Haftar and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in a bid to spread Russian influence. Proekt documents the convoluted plot, culminating in the final part of its four-part series on Prigozhin’s empire of foreign adventurism. — Proekt (Russian)

What does it mean to be a man in the South Caucasus, a region typecast by many outsiders as a backwoods of blood feuds and warriors? This series of interviews by Chai Khanna illustrates the depth and breadth of masculinity in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, breaking down barriers and lending local perspective to the growing global conversation on gender norms. — Chai Khanna

For many more article summaries and additional context, take a look at the complete roundup here.

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