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,” she notes.
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.