John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Failed States Index and Africa

by John Campbell
June 22, 2011

Civilians flee from renewed fighting between government soldiers and the Al Shabaab in Somalia's capital Mogadishu May 24, 2011. (Feisal Omar/Courtesy Reuters)

On June 20, Foreign Policy published the Fund for Peace’s annual Failed States Index. Drawn from millions of publicly available sources and covering 177 countries, the statistical analysis has become required reading in government and policy circles over the last decade. Unsurprisingly, Somalia continues to top the list as the most unstable state in the sample. Ivory Coast also rejoined the top ten most fragile states, and the data set does not account for the country’s post-election conflict that left more than one thousand people dead. However, some of the results below the Sahara are encouraging: of the top ten most improved countries, three are from Africa. Kenya now ranks sixteenth, down from thirteenth last year—an indicator of increased stability following the 2007-2008 electoral conflict. Ghana (115) and Botswana (113) continue to be low in the rankings.

The Failed States Index can be a helpful analytical tool for policymakers, academics, and development professionals alike. But it is only a tool, and it can be limited. The most recent data set covers indicators from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2010, excluding the post-election violence in Nigeria, the demonstrations in Uganda, the recent strife in Sudan, and other events. Further, as I write in Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink (2010), fixing failing states may not be not analogous to fixing “broken machines.” The Failed States Index is not necessarily predictive, and it may not represent what every citizen experiences on a daily basis.

My CFR colleague Stewart Patrick also has a new thought-provoking article in Foreign Policy that challenges the prevailing logic behind state failure. Read it here.

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  • Posted by Hank Cohen

    I agree with Stewart Patrick. I don’t think we need to spend a lot of person hours compiling failed states indexes. Like pornography, we know them when we seem them. What we should be concentrating on, at least in Africa, are surrogate wars. We seem to take them for granted, when they cause more human suffering and development deficits than anything. Eastern Congo is suffering because of Rwanda engaging in surrogate war there. Côte d’Ivoire was the victim of surrogate war from Burkina between December 1999 to the year 2011. Of course, the most infamous was Burkina/Côte d’Ivoire/Libya surrogate war in Liberia. Chad was responsible for much of Darfur.etc, etc.
    During Dr. Fraser’s first CFR session with Salim Salim, I asked him about surrogate wars in Africa. He shrugged his shoulders. They exist, so what? Jendayi said we need to do a session on that. I hope so.

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