Friday, July 30, 2010

Geopolitics: Failed States Index

Recently, Foreign Policy Magazine and the Fund for Peace came out with their 6th annual index of failed states. Most are either in states of war or facing other stressors. A couple months ago I talked about the 2009 Failed States Index and how I had a curiosity to see the "most failed" countries in each continent first hand. I still have that mission, but I thought I would discuss a little more the qualification of how a country becomes a failed state.

As I mentioned before, every country "works" to the degree that people survive more than they die and that even when you have humanitarian crises, somehow humanity just keeps trudging along. It may not be a version that most are used to, but what has made humans the most successful of animals is the same reason that ants are among the most successful invasive species: we adapt and change our environment. People work together to obtain their goals. Even if the individuals belong to marauding gangs committing atrocities (as has happened in multiple locations, including Uganda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) or ruthless drug cartels (e.g., Mexico, Colombia), there is cooperation, albeit for goals that go against normal social needs.

But still, I think all can agree that some governments (or states) do a better job at providing a non-hostile environment full of resources that give individuals relatively unhindered means to satisfy their inner goals (rather than just surviving).

There is debate about what qualifiers should be used to identify the worst states or those so fragile that any disaster could spiral them into chaos (as happened recently in Haiti with the series of 7+ magnitude earthquakes). Looking at multiple lists yields the following:

Top 25 "most failed" countries in the updated 2010 Failed States Index (in order from most to least failed): Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, CAR, Guinea, Pakistan, Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Yemen, Burma, Ethiopia, East Timor, DPR Korea, Niger, Uganda, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. [map from Foreign Policy Magazine]
Top 25 "worst" countries according to the Human Development Index (HDI), again from least developed to most: Niger, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, CAR, Mali, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Chad, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Moçambique, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liveria, Gambia, Rwanda, Senegal, Eritrea, Zambia, Côte d'Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Benin, Mali, Togo, Nigeria. [map from Wikipedia]
And finally, if looking at a list of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) we see (alphabetical): Afghanistan, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, R Congo, DR Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Moçambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé & Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and the "under consideration" HIPCs of Comoros, Eritrea, Kyrgyz Republic, Somalia, and Sudan. [map from Wikipedia]
The main problem for me with deciding where to travel to better understand why certain places seem so chronically critical or unable to develop in a responsible manner is that all of the above lists show a heavy Africa bias (the Failed States Index is also heavily influenced by war and when natural disasters strike countries without efficient infrastructures, like Haiti). I think that every continent or cultural region should be measured according to their own baselines as values differ significantly between continents and peoples.

Obviously, there is a lot of "food for thought" and I'll continue to post ideas on the subject as the weeks go on. By October I'll know my travel schedule for 2011, which will determine how much time I have to dedicate to this project and travel to failed states. I'm not sure if I'll travel around the entire world in a single year to visit the 30 most failed states (5 worst per continent) and contrast them with the functionally "best" country per continent as people have noted that only about 10 days per country is not enough to "get a handle" on any situation. I don't believe in the other extreme, which says that a person has to live in a failed state for a few years before they understand things, since a friend told me that his Ukrainian and Moldovan friends don't even understand their own countries, and they were born there, so how will I? In the end, I'll compromise between traveling to places I'd like to learn more about versus traveling everywhere. I'll certainly be traveling to the Horn of Africa and Iraq, but the rest seems flexible.

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