Some people wait with bated breath for their favorite indexes to be released: the rankings of NFL draft prospects, or of national football teams’ prospects in the World Cup. The index I wait anxiously for? Foreign Policy’s “Failed States Index“.
FP’s index is one of the more thorough overviews available of the question of “state viability” – how likely a particular state is to survive or collapse (either into multiple states or into stateless anarchy.) Using twelve factors posited by the Fund for Peace, it calculates social, economic and political scores for 140 different nations and lists the most tenuous states.
Failed and failing states are fascinating to people who work in international development because they represent the dark side of the work we’re trying to do. We may cheer Ghana’s democratic elections or Botswana’s robust economy, but we’re simultaneously terrified of DRC or Nigeria turning into Somalia.
As is too often the case, Africa is very well represented in the list of states most at risk. 11 of the 20 nations at the top of the list are in sub-Saharan Africa, including the top three (Sudan, DRC and Ivory Coast, last year’s leader). America’s efforts aside, Iraq places fourth, two above already-failed state Somalia. (The survey considers 2005 only – given sectarian violence this year, it’s likely that Iraq has displaced Ivory Coast, which appears to be stabilizing.)
Failed states have the potential to export violence beyond their borders – think Sudan and Chad, or eastern DRC and Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. a quick glance at the map provided by FP gives a sense for how state failure has a “neighborhood” effect – we’re hard pressed to find an island of stability in Central Africa, and Ghana, Mali and Senegal begin to look like bulwarks against West African instability. This effect has likely contributed to Pakistan’s slide onto the bottom 20, influenced in no small part by neighbor Afghanistan.
Because today is World Press Freedom day, I was also reading Committee to Protect Journalists’ list of 10 Most Censored Countries. While there’s a clear correlation between corruption and state failure, as documented on this chart, “Paying the Piper”, the relationship between censorship and state failure is less clear. CPJ’s most censored state – North Korea – is 14th on the index of failed states, while Burma (CPJ’s #2) is the only other to make FP’s top 20. Two of the most censored states – Libya and Cuba – don’t even register in FP’s top 60.
CPJ’s bottom ten list is a tough club to break in to – not only do you need to eliminate all state criticism, it helps to ban privately held media outlets as well. And the real big guns on this list go a step further, eliminating the possibility that any outside information will break in, like North Korea, which sells radios and TVs that are modified so they can only be tuned to government channels.
This sort of control requires a strong state, the antonym, more or less, of a failed state. Controlling the flow of information in a country requires controlling borders, having full control of the territory of a country and exclusivity over the use of force… In “countries” like Somalia, there’s a flourishing free press, in no small part because no central authority exists to regulate businesses – including telephone companies and airlines – supported by local communities (or protected by local warlords).
Reading these studies back to back is a useful reminder that there’s
at least two ways a nation can fail. The government can lose control and find itself unable to control its territory, vulnerable to refugees, invading armies and illegal trade across borders. Or a government – often fearing loss of control – can clamp down on the press, human rights, freedom of expression and maintain power through repression.
Neither strategy is likely to turn your nation into a tourist paradise (though Cuba’s having some success on that front). But the repressive strategy is clearly preferred by major international investors. Just ask Exxon Mobil, which does so much business in Equatorial Guinea that there’s a weekly non-stop flight from Houston to Malabo. According to CPJ, the only regular print publication in Equatorial Guinea is a pro-government magazine largely supported by advertising from American oil companies…