Somalia Tops the Failed States Index
for the Fourth Year Running

Published June 18, 2011
By J. J. Messner
Failed States Index 2011
If the Failed States Index were a championship, then Somalia would be the undisputed four-time champion (or cellar-dweller, depending on how you look at it). In the seven years of the Failed States Index, Somalia has had the ignominious distinction of occupying the worst spot for the past four years straight. Despite having a relatively functional and pretty much autonomous ‘state’ in the north, Somaliland, the country as a whole still manages to score badly enough to make up for that glimmer of unrecognized hope. Worse still, the country is in no danger of losing its position anytime soon. A combination of widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, abysmal development and a penchant for inconveniencing the rest of the world by taking their merchant vessels hostage has given Somalia a score that – much as they seem to try – neither Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe nor the Democratic Republic of Congo can hope to match.

Though Somalia’s reign atop the Failed States Index has been noteworthy (though definitely not in a any kind of positive fashion), the inverse and legitimately impressive reign at the other end of the scale as the least at-risk of failure has, for the life of the Index, been exclusively held by Norway. Until now. In the Failed States Index 2011, Norway has ceded the most enviable spot to its Nordic neighbor, Finland. That is not to say that Norway is sliding towards state failure. Indeed, Scandinavia has collectively ruled the stable end of the Failed States Index since its inception, and Finland’s ascendancy largely represents what could be considered a rearrangement of the desks in a classroom for the gifted and talented.

A color coded map of the world, as defined through the lens of the Failed States Index (with green representing sustainable and increasingly menacing shades of red representing the reverse), continues to demonstrate immense regional disparity. Save for a few outposts of relative order, Western Europe, the north and south extremes of the Americas, north-east Asia and Australia and New Zealand represent the hubs of sustainability and relative stability. But between those areas of green and yellow is an awful lot of red and orange. With some exceptions, the deepest of those shades of red are to be found in South Asia and as a band across Africa’s middle where conflict is frequent and human suffering all too common. Sadly, the colors have not changed much over the years.

But it would be wrong to assume that one year’s Failed States Index map is a carbon copy of its predecessors. This year, Mother Nature was to blame for some of the most significant worsening. Haiti, which saw a devastating earthquake in January 2010, suffered the most, climbing to the fifth spot on the index. Another massive temblor shook Chile in February, killing as many as 500 people and destroying buildings and infrastructure. Deadly floods in Benin, the worst since 1963, displaced nearly 700,000 people and led to significant outbreaks of cholera. At the other end of the spectrum, drought and poor harvests led to a food crisis in Niger. Though natural disasters affecting major population centers will almost always have a significant impact on countries, the capacity of the state to adequately respond to such crises will either mitigate or add to the human suffering.

Elsewhere in Africa, ethnic violence in northern Liberia and renewed separatist troubles in Senegal’s Casamance region led to setbacks in both countries’ progress. In Rwanda, the increasing authoritarianism of Paul Kagame -- including further restrictions on the media and opposition groups -- did no favors for the country’s scorecard. But the picture in Africa is not all bad; three of the top 10 most improved countries for 2011 are in Africa. Sudan and Chad improved slightly largely due to minor abatements of existing conflicts in both countries; Algeria also improved substantially, partly due to the government’s more effective combating of regional terrorist groups.

Interestingly, the second-most significant drop was experienced by Kyrgyzstan in the wake of the mid-2010 revolution, one that has largely been forgotten as the world’s attention has been diverted to the upheavals of the Arab spring. Speaking of which, though the Arab spring was largely not captured by the 2011 Failed States Index (which closed out on December 31, before the heating up of January’s turmoil), one of the largest drops recorded was actually by Tunisia, the one country whose Arab spring began within the Index’s catchment period.

The biggest drops this year were not necessarily the reserve of countries that we may otherwise think of as badly-off. Indeed, two of the ten-most significant declines were experienced in Western Europe: by Ireland (a victim of severe economic woes and recipient of an EU bail-out) and Belgium (where even the threat of senior politicians’ wives abstaining from connubial duties failed to inspire the formation of a government).

There are, thankfully, some good news stories from this year’s Index. Though only 2½ years ago the world looked on as Russia attacked Georgia, the small Black Sea country experienced the largest improvement of any state in the 2011 Index, although much of it was recovered ground following the conflict with Russia that uprooted thousands. Georgia has profited from significant government reforms to the security apparatus, including greater transparency and accountability, as well as a clamp-down on endemic corruption. Both policies have led to a reduction in organized crime and thus greater internal stability.

Serbia’s score improved the second-most, helped by more arrests of war crimes suspects and a continued path towards European integration. The decision of The Fund for Peace to remove Kosovo from Serbia’s calculations and thus relieve Serbia of what had become – statistically, at least – somewhat of a millstone around its neck, also contributed to the country’s improvement.

With annual rates of growth of 10% and 8.7% respectively, continued economic growth saw the scores of China and Peru improve markedly. Other significant improvements reflected situations that may not by any stretch of the imagination be good, but nevertheless represent situations becoming a little less bad. In the case of Sudan, Chad and Timor-Leste, all three countries continue to experience significant hardship, however the Failed States Index indicates that things might be getting slightly less awful. Just as interesting as the worsening scores for Tunisia, two countries of the region largely untouched by much of the recent uprising, Algeria and Lebanon, also happened to be two of the most improved countries on the Index.

Looking forward to 2012, and given the events of 2011 so far, it is fairly safe to assume that the likes of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen will probably be the source of much discussion in next year’s Index. The March earthquake in Japan and the subsequent deadly aftershocks in New Zealand will likely undermine the scores of these two highly developed nations. And let’s not forget that on July 9, it is widely expected that South Sudan will be recognized as an independent country and UN member state. Again, if the Failed States Index were a championship, would we consider the new country to be an expansion team?