Seven sub-Saharan African
countries dominate the top ten listing of nations on this year’s Index of
Failed States compiled by the Washington-based Fund for Peace and Foreign
Policy magazine. The 2008 rankings of 177 countries, published in the
current issue of Foreign Policy, put Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Chad
in the highest spots, in that order, in a measurement of vulnerability to
conflict and societal decline. A failed
state is defined as a country whose central government is so weak or
ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its
territory. Fund for Peace President
Pauline Baker explains why
Somalia replaced Sudan in first place this year.
“The thing that bumped it up to number one this
year was the invasion by the Ethiopian troops and the complete breakdown of all
security. And that had an impact both
on the political and military indicators, the economic indicators, and so
forth,” says Dr. Baker, who lived in Nigeria from 1964 to 1975 and taught at
the University of Lagos.
Whereas the crisis in Darfur and a shaky peace
process in Southern Sudan made Khartoum the most failed state for the past two
years’ rankings, Somalia plummeted from seventh in 2006 to third last year, and
into first place for 2008.
“Keep in mind that each year’s index is based on
the previous year. So things that
occurred this year in calendar 2008 are not captured in the 2008 index. It’s based on 2007 data,” she noted.
Baker explains that is one reason why Sudan
continues to rank one step higher than Zimbabwe, which was torn by election
strife earlier this year, and why other countries with flawed elections in
2007, Kenya and Nigeria, along with the oil producing state of Chad, also moved
up in the rankings.
“Sudan is really an institutionally very weak
state whose only good news is the oil price and the boom that’s taking place in
Khartoum. But in terms of managing
conflict, Sudan hasn’t done a good job of that as well. Now Zimbabwe was until recently on a slow
decline and sort of the hyperinflation – and that’s really a mild word to
describe the utter ruination of the economy – has quickened in pace. And since the first election, I think the
deterioration of Zimbabwe has increased,” she noted.
Kenya’s ranking slumped from 31st
place in 2007 to 26th this year after an electoral crisis that was
not resolved until March of this year left hundreds of thousands of Kenyans
displaced and streaming across borders in neighboring crisis-ridden
countries. Nigeria, on the other hand,
which also endured a disputed presidential election along with continuing
unrest in its southern Niger Delta oil-producing region, finished 18th
in this year’s ratings, a one place improvement over last year. Baker says Nigeria and fourth-place Chad are
both plagued by an uneven distribution of wealth and a disparity between those
who produce the wealth and those who make the profits that are bringing down
the resource-rich states.
“Chad is even more underdeveloped than
Nigeria. And it doesn’t have the wealth
that Nigeria has, nor does it have the size of the population. But both are victims of the same curse, if
you will, of oil, which basically represents windfall profits that come through
extractive processes which the government has not used in order to create jobs
and develop and put into health and education and welfare. So it’s not so much that the oil companies
are getting wealthy, but the people who are governing these states are
personally getting wealthy, and you’re creating basically an elite class, very,
very separate from the benefit of the masses,” she says.
The Fund for Peace report notes that besides
escalating oil prices, last year’s implosion in the US sub-prime housing rate
pressed a dramatic fluctuation in world currency values. And a sharp rise in natural disasters and
weather-related events brought on a food shortage that Pauline Baker says
contributed significantly to weakened states becoming more vulnerable to
starvation and destitution.
“It used to be thought that Africa would be
insulated from any downturn in the global economy because it wasn’t as well
integrated into the global economy. But
when the inflation rates affect fuel and food, it affects everybody. So I think that was a myth and that what
we’re seeing now is that Africa is the most vulnerable because so many people
in Africa live at a subsistence level or live on a dollar or two a day. And so we’re finding that the world economy
and the downturn that’s happening, while we’re all concerned with our own
benefits and our own welfare, there are some people who are going to be hit
much harder than we thought, and Africa is most certainly part of that group,”
On the improvement front, Ivory Coast and Liberia
are countries that have shown slight improvements, moving from 6th
to 8th place and 27th to 31st, respectively,
in the rankings. Baker attributes some
of the advances in those West African states to a UN troop presence, as well as
to leadership that is restoring stability and global economic ties to the two
countries. She also cites a handful of
African states that are “quite stable and doing very well, like Ghana, Senegal,
Botswana, and Mauritius.” Those
countries, she says don’t fit the negative profile of failed states, and are
quietly making good progress in their own borders.
Other encouraging signs that
Baker says are lifting African countries out of failed state status are a rise
in elections, a growth in civil society in Africa, and the development of
information technology and the internet, which encourage people on the
continent to keep up with the rest of the world and strive to improve their
quality of life.