Earlier this week, a global survey of states most at risk of failure
named Somalia and Sudan as the top two most unstable countries in the
world. As VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa
Bureau in Nairobi, both African countries are embroiled in complex
internal and external conflicts that are destabilizing neighboring
countries and threatening tens of millions of people.
took the top spot in this year's Failed States Index, replacing Sudan,
which had held the dubious distinction for the past two years.
the annual survey compiled by the U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine
and independent research organization Fund for Peace, Somalia scored
higher than Zimbabwe, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in terms of its
vulnerability to violent internal conflict and the deterioration of its
Conflict-resolution specialist Jan van Eck in
South Africa says Somalia's problems are particularly challenging,
because they are caused by conflicts between numerous groups trying to
fill an enormous power vacuum.
The Horn of African country has
been without a functioning government since 1991 when factional leaders
overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and began fighting amongst
themselves for control of the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere.
Somalia now, you have two conflicts - between the internal parties
themselves and then between some of the internal parties and Ethiopia
and America," he noted. "It is a failing state - you can even say
there is no state - where there is just no progress."
In 2004, a
U.N.-backed-but-unpopular transitional government was formed in exile,
but it was too weak to challenge Somali Islamists, who were rapidly
consolidating power. By late 2006, the Islamists had control over much
of southern and central Somalia and had largely restored order. But
hard-line elements in the movement were suspected of strengthening
their ties to terror groups.
With the support of the United
States, neighboring Ethiopia intervened militarily in December 2006 and
ousted the Islamists. That sparked an Islamist-led insurgency against
the unpopular government and Ethiopian forces. The fighting has
claimed the lives of thousands and has created what the United Nations
calls the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
has been further complicated by allegations that Eritrea is fighting a
proxy war against archenemy Ethiopia in Somalia by supporting Islamist
rebels. Eritrea denies the charge.
Earlier this month, several
moderate figures in the Somali Islamist movement severed their ties
with Eritrea and signed a U.N.-sponsored peace deal with the interim
government in Djibouti. The Islamist hardliners, who boycotted the
talks, rejected the deal and has vowed to continue fighting.
Eck says the peace deal effectively isolated the hardliners, who are likely to create more instability, not less.
group remained outside the meeting and that means whatever agreement
has been reached between the government and some of the opposition
group will not hold," he added. "We still do not have a platform
whereby inclusive negotiations between the two sides can take place and
so the conflict will continue."
Professor Eric Reeves at Smith
College in the United States says second-ranked Sudan suffers from the
opposite problem in that there is too much power concentrated in one
group in the center. Reeves has been observing the African country for
more than a decade.
He says despite a peace agreement in 2005
that ended Sudan's two decade-long civil war between Sudan's
Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and African rebels in the south,
Khartoum is still refusing to share power and cracking down on anyone
trying to challenge its rule.
"The history of Sudan is a history
of conflict between the center and the periphery, between Khartoum and
the peripheral areas that have been marginalized politically and
economically," he explained. "I am not sure how the regime does
survive, except by ruthless control of the military and the security
Sudan is Africa's largest country with multiple
ethnic, religious, and socio-economic groups. It is home to three
regional conflicts - in the south, west, and east - which pits local
rebel groups against the ruling Islamist National Congress Party in
The conflict in the western Darfur region has been the
main focus of international attention in recent years. Since rebels
rose up against Khartoum in 2003, attacks by government forces and
allied militias have led to the deaths of 200,000 civilians and
the displacement of more than two million others.
Darfur has continued to deteriorate, exacerbated by fighting between
rebel factions and an escalating proxy war between Sudan and
neighboring Chad, which is also threatening to destabilize the Central
Reeves says Sudan's future as a nation appears uncertain at best.
are in a period of time, where there seems to be no exit from a
disastrous Darfur strategy other than to continue to keep four million
people on the verge of destruction," he added. "There is no real peace
in the east. And we have a great deal of instability in south Sudan
with the crisis around Abyei on the border between south and north
Sudan. We have to pay attention because this is a very, very important
country. It borders nine other countries in Africa and its collapse
would have an enormous impact from Kenya to Libya to Chad to the
Central African Republic."
Five other countries in sub-Saharan
Africa - Zimbabwe, Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, Ivory Coast, and the Central
African Republic - were among the top 10 most unstable in the Failed