By Paul Ndiho
July 20, 2011
A study published by the Fund for Peace, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, and Foreign Policy magazine, says seven of the World’s top ten failing states are in Africa. Somalia, Chad, Sudan and Congo top the 2011 Failed States Index as Africa’s worst political performers.
The African continent continued to figure prominently again in 2011, with 27 African countries scheduled to hold or have already held presidential or legislative elections this year. Analysts say, as much as elections can contribute to democratic progress, they are often a flashpoint for conflict. For example, the Ivory Coast was thrown into a four-month crisis when it’s outgoing president. Uganda’s incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won re-election in February, but the opposition cried foul and his inauguration was marred by violent protests. In Nigeria, post-election violence killed as many as 800 people. Washington-based political analyst Nii Akuetteh, says elections are necessary for democracy, but they are not sufficient.
“Democracy is very important, and one of the first major steps is elections, however, those who have fought for democracy and even those who are skeptical, no one should think that elections equal democracy. It is a start, but it is the first step in a long journey.”
Last month, the Fund for Peace, and the Foreign Policy Magazine jointly released a Failed States index for 2011. The study listed and rated some African countries on 12 indicators of pressure on the state during 2010. Out of the 177 countries analyzed, most African countries performed poorly. J. J. Messner, one of the authors of the Fund for Peace report, says it is important to look at the failed states characterization as a representation of pressures on a state.
“It’s absolutely true unfortunately that for countries at the high end of the index that countries that we believe are the most at risk of state failure, or even beyond that are experiencing the most pressures in comparison to most states those tend to be contrast in Africa within the top ten. I believe that seven of those top ten are in Africa.”
For a fourth year in a row, Somalia held the number one spot. Somalia’s Transitional Government has made some progress in stabilizing the security situation, but al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida-linked militia group, continues to kill and attack civilians while trying to overthrow Somalia’s transitional government.
“Somalia at the top of the index is the closest that we come to what we may call a failed state. But that really is not our call at the fund for peace. We are not saying that Somalia is necessarily a failed state. What we are saying is that out of all the countries in the world Somalia is the most at risk of state failure.”
Chad took the number two spot, according to the report. In April 2011, Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, widely regarded as a strongman, won a re-election with almost 90 percent of the vote. Observers say the ballot was flawed and turnout was low, but the president claimed victory.
Sudan just went through a painful partition this month. In January, the country’s south voted to secede from the north and the referendum went smoothly. North and south Sudan fought each other for decades in a civil war fueled by oil, ethnicity, religion, and ideology. The violence claimed an estimated two million lives, forced four million to flee and destabilized the region. Nii Akuetteh, attributes these failures to bad leadership and a lack of strong institutions on the continent.
“Leadership in Africa has been terrible, but how do you correct leadership? In my view, your current leadership with strong institutions, to the extent that you can have democracy, transparency, rule of law, strong parliaments, and you devolve power…I think it helps to have good leadership.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not doing well either on the failed states index. Congo is considered as one of the world’s richest countries in terms of mineral resources, but remains poor. In the East, where much of the mineral wealth lies, armed militias terrorize the impoverished population in a perpetual struggle to control land, mines. Sexual violence against women in the east has left thousands of victims in need of assistance. The United Nations says over five million people have died from war-related violence, hunger and disease.
Zimbabwe took the sixth position on the Failed States index. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) beat Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF at the polls in 2008, but when the president refused to step down, neighboring South Africa had to broker a deal for both parties to share power. But the coalition government is failing; the MDC has been effectively sidelined and President Mugabe continues to wield power. Political analyst Nii Akuetteh, says it’s not surprising that so many African countries are dubbed as failed states.
“African countries are the youngest countries in the world, they’re made out of colonialism, the state wasn’t set up well, and then Africa became independent right in the middle of the Cold War, with major east/west rivalries impinging what African countries could do. The Congo is the perfect example of the imposition of Mubutu in place of Patrice Lumumba the leader that they country elected.”
Ivory Coast ranked at number 10 on the list of failed states. Before this year’s post election violence, Ivory Coast was an economic success story, often referred to as the gateway to West Africa. Late last year, the country went to the polls to elect a new president; the winner, Alassane Ouattara, secured victory by a tiny margin. The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down. A four-month showdown ensued. Ouattara was finally installed in office almost half a year late. Observers say it may take months for the Ivory Coast to get back to where it was even a year ago.
J. J. Messner, senior associate, at the Fund for Peace, dismisses claims that the report is biased towards Africa, and says that many African countries scored poorly on the index because of democratic pressures, uneven economic development, abuse of human rights and the rule of law.
So it’s not exclusively African countries but i think that that is recognition in many ways that there are immense pressures among many of the countries in Africa whether it may be political pressures or economic pressures or social pressure it may even be natural disasters which really undermine the state’s ability to function properly and also undermine society at large. A country that is experiencing economic growth may be experiencing pressure in other in the areas.
In Uganda, protesters flooded the streets after February’s presidential election, which predictably gave Uganda’s long time Leader Yoweri Museveni another victory. Government troops responded to the peaceful demonstrations with brutality, smashing car windows with guns or pointing weapons at people, reminding Ugandans of previous brutal regimes. Mr. Akuetteh blames the west for encouraging and supporting such failing states.
“I think it is so egregious that the US so frequently gets in bed with dictators and the failed states that we are talking about, when you look at the top 5 failed states, 4 of which are African the thing that jumps out at you is that all 4 have dictators that were befriended by the US because they were thought of as friendly tyrants. So, it goes to my argument that friendly tyrants are no good for their countries, and I also think that they are not even good for the United States.”
Nigeria is also on the Failed States Index in the 14th position. In April 2011, Nigerians voted in elections which were declared by the intentional community as the most credible in the country’s history. But after the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, had been declared winner in the poll, the main opposition rejected the result, and violent demonstrations broke out in the north of the country, leaving more than 800 people dead.
Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest oil producers, and gets between 90 percent of its revenues from oil. As another symptom of its failure as a state, analysts point to the poverty in which so many of the country’s 150 million citizens live. Other African countries that performed poorly on the failed states index 2011 include Central African Republic, Guinea, Niger, Kenya, Burundi, Guinea Bissau and Ethiopia.