Failed States Index: A Failed Index Or Guide To Frontier Markets?

Via Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace, a look at the 2012 Failed States Index.  Here are the top 10:

  1. Somalia

As the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate in 2011, the country remains at the top of the Failed States Index for the fifth year in succession. Ten out of twelve of Somalia’s indicators scores were above 9.0 on a scale of 10. Indeed, the Refugees and IDPs as well as the Security Apparatus indicator scores remain at the highest possible level of 10.0. The absence of a permanent national government for twenty years was aggravated in 2011 by an upsurge of violence, massive human rights abuses and natural disasters. Worsened social conditions have added to political instability which led to mass displacement and impoverishment. Somalia also continues to be a relentless headache for international shipping, with the unrelenting activities of Somali pirates deep into the Indian Ocean. Despite attempts by external actors such as the African Union and neighboring Kenya to intervene in the conflict, terrorist activity by al-Shabaab and general unabating lawlessness has hampered such efforts.
Raphaël Jaeger

  2. D. R. Congo

Following the disputed 2011 presidential election, the resource-rich D.R. Congo continued to struggle with instability, driven by a lack of state capacity and legitimacy. Despite the country’s vast resources, it is consumed by extreme poverty, which has led to food security issues and protests. A weak public sector, marred by corruption, is increasingly unable to provide essential services, making the need for social and political reforms even more urgent. Daily human rights abuses by security forces and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in the Eastern provinces led to an alarming number of displaced Congolese within the second-largest country in Africa. The government needs to hold these rebels accountable and increase the capacity of the security sector in order to work toward establishing peace and stability in the country. President Joseph Kabila should use the country’s wealth from the extractive industry to provide public services to citizens and improve the standard of living.
Raphaël Jaeger

  3. Sudan

Sudan has made very few improvements since the advent of the Failed State Index, having topped the Index twice in the past seven years. Indeed, Sudan faces large-scale instability in its political, social, and economic realms, fed on by widespread ethnic, religious, and political armed conflicts throughout the country. In 2011 the country saw its southern autonomous province secede, taking many of Sudan’s profitable oil fields with its newfound independence. Sudan must now work hard to develop its other struggling sectors, despite its decrease in GDP growth. Violence and allegations of torture and rape committed by all parties, moreover, continue to mire the country’s record. These and other outstanding issues underline Sudan’s great need for a stronger, more legitimate government willing to protect its people and enact large-scale reform.
Felipe Umaña

  Not Ranked: South Sudan

South Sudan’s unranked first inclusion in the Failed States Index sheds a light on the dire condition of the fledgling nation. South Sudan has inherited its parent country’s social and political problems after independence in mid-2011. With only five months to introduce sweeping reform, the country faces some of the worst health and education indicators worldwide. Widespread violence has brought politics, the economy, and transportation and public service infrastructures to a halt. Indeed, South Sudan’s rampant insecurity has forced the government to spend its resources combating threats instead of promoting overall growth and development. In December 2011, escalations in cattle raids led to violent border clashes in the Jonglei state. The government was forced to declare the region a disaster zone after tens of thousands were killed or displaced. In sum, South Sudan’s poor indicators for the last five months of 2011 point to a troubled future for the young nation.
Felipe Umaña

  4. Chad

Over the course of 2011, Chad’s political and economic situation improved dramatically. The 2010 peace agreement between Chad and Sudan decreased levels of violence in the Darfur region, as the Deby government renounced its past support for rebel groups operating in the area. Increased oil revenues have also allowed Chad to begin developing its economy; however, these funds have mainly been used to finance the expansion of the security sector. Desertification and drought remain significant causes for concern, as does rising militancy in the region. Ultimately, though Chad has improved significantly from 2010 to 2011, rising from 2nd to 4th place in the Failed States Index, much remains to be done to ensure that this progress persists.
Amelia Whitehead

  5. Zimbabwe

Despite some economic recovery and the end of one-party rule in 2009 through the creation of a ZANU-PF and MDC unity government, Zimbabwe is an unstable state. Reform has been slow, ministries are divided and inefficient, and President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party continues to dominate the country, using the security apparatus as a tool to intimidate, harass, and abuse any opposition. Government repression, political violence, corruption, and lawlessness have left Zimbabwe in a state of deep insecurity. Chronic shortages of food and fuel, along with an HIV/AIDS epidemic and little media freedom has contributed to the instability. The creation of a friendlier business environment, capable of attracting foreign investment is necessary to help improve the economy and reduce high rates of unemployment. Tensions are increasing as Zimbabwe approaches elections in the coming year. 
Tierney Anderson

  6. Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s dire security conditions make it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. With a whole host of pressure groups – from drug lords to the power-hungry Taliban – Afghanistan’s central government in Kabul faces many threats to its stability and permanence. About 80% of civilian deaths were attributed to the Taliban’s militant campaign in 2011, with the numbers increasing over 2010 figures. The lack of political cohesion further exacerbates the government’s inability to provide for its citizens. As major portions of the Afghani society prescribe to nomadic and traditional ideals, many do not view Kabul as the primary authority over national politics. Additionally, the provision of public services and economic development outside of populated areas are severely underdeveloped, which will likely remain so until Afghani security conditions ameliorate. It remains to be seen what affect the 2014 NATO withdrawal will have, especially given Kabul’s high dependence on the assistance of external actors.
Felipe Umaña

  7. Haiti

Haiti remains one of the top ten worst performing countries in the 2012 Index, due to a slow recovery from the 2010 earthquake that reduced much of the capital to rubble. The country has demonstrated a poor capacity to deal with the aftermath of the disaster and continues to be heavily reliant on foreign aid. The rebuilding of infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals has barely begun. Over half a million people live in displacement camps, where disease and violence is prevalent. A cholera epidemic has added to Haiti’s woes, infecting nearly 5% of the population. While the Haitian government has made positive comments about developing Haiti, actual steps need to be taken to fix Haiti’s chronic structural deficiencies. Legitimizing the political system, developing rural areas and establishing a strong security sector are needed to facilitate Haiti’s recovery.
Natalie Manning

  8. Yemen

Yemen now ranks in the top ten on the Failed States Index due to the Arab Spring unsettling the country in 2011. Although the country saw the successful transition of government, ousted President Saleh still wields significant power in the country. The new incumbent, President Hadi, has been unable to get rid of many of Saleh’s loyalists who still hold top positions in the government and military. As tensions heighten between the North and South, President Hadi will need to address the grievances of Southern Yemeni, who believe they have been marginalized by the government. In addition, the establishment of a strong security sector will be vital to maintain peace, as Yemen’s extreme terrain has become home to militants and terrorist groups. Yemen remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and will need to diversify its economy before its oil is projected to run out in 2017.
Natalie Manning

  9. Iraq

Security problems have persisted as few improvements have been made in pacifying warring sects and marginalized ethnic groups. December 15, 2011 marked the official end of the Iraq War – a momentous end to a controversial nine-year international military campaign. The day following the last American troop departure, an arrest warrant was issued for the Sunni Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashemi, accusing him of hiring hit squads and advocating explosive tactics, symbolizing the still fraught conditions in Iraqi politics. The social atmosphere remains considerably divided, as ethnic and religious minority groups contest over political representation. Human rights are poorly protected. An increase in anti-government demonstrations in 2011 led to a tightening of the freedom of assembly. Overall, it remains to be seen how much positive change will be achieved during Iraq’s current transition period.
Felipe Umaña

  10. Central African Republic
Though the political and economic situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) improved slightly throughout 2011, leading the country to move from 8th to 10th place in the Failed States Index, CAR remains plagued by violence and instability. Fighting between government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army has led to mass migration, as civilians flee the violence. Humanitarian agencies operating in the region have struggled to adjust to the large influxes of refugees and internally displaced persons, now numbered at over 200,000. Though the 2010 peace accord with Sudan decreased levels of violence in the Darfur region, allowing some Sudanese refugees to return home, many remain, further destabilizing the country. The 2011 elections, which granted President Francois Bozize a second term in office, were marred by claims of electioneering and fraud, undermining trust in the federal government.

That said, this year’s list prompted at least one strong comment:

This year, pro forma, almost the entire African continent shows up on the Failed States map in the guiltiest shade of red. The accusation is that with a handful of exceptions, African states are failing in 2012. But what does this tell us? What does it actually mean? Frankly, we have no idea. The index is so flawed in its conception, so incoherent in its structuring criteria, and so misleading in its presentation that from the perspective of those who live or work in those places condemned as failures, it’s difficult to receive the ranking as anything more than a predictable annual canard issued from Washington, D.C. against non-Western — and particularly African — nations.

The problem is that there are any number of reasons why the Fund for Peace might decide that a state is failing. The Washington-based think-tank has a methodology of sorts, but Foreign Policy insists on making the list accessible primarily through a series of “Postcards from Hell.” Flipping through the slideshow, it’s impossible to shrug off the suspicion that the whole affair is a sloppy cocktail of cultural bigotries and liberal-democratic commonplaces — a faux-empirical sham that packs quite a nasty racialized aftertaste. How do we know if a state is failing or not? Old chestnuts like the rule of law are certainly considered, but also in play are things like economic growth, economic “success,” poverty, inequality, corruption, non-state violence, state violence, human rights abuses, body counts, terrorism, health care, “fragility,” political dissent, social divisions, and levels of authoritarianism. And yes, we’ll be indexing all of those at once, and more.

The golden principle by which this muddle is to be marshaled oh-so-objectively into a grand spectrum of state failure coefficients is apparently the idea of “stability.” But is it really? Well, if you’re an Arab Spring country, then yes, it’s the “instability” of revolution or popular revolt that has put you in the red this year. Sorry about that. But if you’re North Korea (the paradigmatic failed state in the U.S. imagination — hence why Zimbabwe is often branded “Africa’s North Korea”), it’s because you’re far too stable. If stability is the key to all this, and yet there’s an imperative for places like North Korea still to be ranked as failures, then we’re in trouble. The cart has long ago overtaken the horse. It would be very difficult indeed to conceive of a more stable form of rule than having power descend smoothly down three generations of the same family over six decades and more (perhaps the Bushes will pull off something like this one day). And, of course, it helps if the names of overweening rulers are spelled correctly: Cameroonian readers of the slideshow were startled to discover that they had been led for many years by someone by the name of “Paul Abiye,” of whom they had never heard (the spelling has since been corrected).

Clearly, the value of stability to any society is uncertain and subjective. Foreign Policy explains to its readers that Malawi (No. 36 on this year’s index) is to be considered a failed state on account of the 19 people killed by police during popular protests against Bingu wa Mutharika’s government a year ago. Yet such dissent is evidence of the strength of Malawian civil society and the determination of ordinary Malawians not to get screwed by their government. Malawi is undoubtedly better off for these protests, not worse. What makes the country’s listing as a failed state look even sillier is that Malawi recently endured a blissfully peaceful transition of power following Mutharika’s sudden death, with constitutional guidelines scrupulously adhered to despite the vested interests of many of the country’s ruling class.

One of our readers, the cartographer Jacques Enaudeau, called the index “a developmentalist ode to no-matter-what political stability and linear history.” He’s right, but as we’ve seen this stability fetish only applies to those states perceived as non-totalitarian. So how exactly can a democratic country like, say, Nigeria ever hope to satisfy the whimsical judgment of Foreign Policy magazine? The Occupy Nigeria movement that demonstrated against corruption and the removal of the country’s fuel subsidy in January was a peaceful mass movement that achieved major gains for working people. It was a thoroughly global protest, with Nigerians in the diaspora taking to the streets of Brussels, London, New York, and Washington, D.C. to demand better governance in Nigeria. Yet these protests are listed on the country’s “postcard” alongside terrorist attacks by Boko Haram as equal evidence of Nigeria’s “hellishness.” For some reason, the postcard neglects to mention the extraordinary spectacle of protesters in Nigerian cities standing guard outside each other’s places of worship — Muslims outside churches, Christians at the doors of mosques — so that each group could pray without fear of further bombings.


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