While problem countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan have been mainstays on the top of the index for years, 2008 found several newcomers moving closer to failure. These countries—call them "failing" rather than failed—could be headed for disaster in the coming months. "Failed states are often easier to deal with than failing states," warns Alan Doss, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unlike with anarchic Somalia, "you'll have all the trappings of power and sovereignty" in these failing states, "and they don't need to take your advice."
Usually quiet Cameroon had a turbulent 2008. Rising unemployment became unbearable when food prices skyrocketed in the first half of the year. When the president, Paul Biya, changed the constitution to prolong his half century of rule, protests and riots rocked the commercial capital of Douala. The violence has since leveled off, but that might be only temporary with Cameroon's economy in free fall. Declining prices for timber and other commodities have resulted in $630 million in corporate losses since the downturn began, and most of the country's planned mining, hydropower, and agriculture projects are in jeopardy. Meanwhile, refugees are flooding over the northern border with Chad, straining already squeezed resources. Although no real political opposition threatens the president's growing grip on power, more street protests and homegrown discontent could certainly make 2009 unpleasant.
Guinea's unhappy rise in the Failed States Index follows a late 2008 coup d'état, the country's first since its long-ruling president, Lansana Conté, took power by the same method in 1984. Conté died in December, and a group of military leaders seized the reins. The new military president, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, has since consolidated power—though elections are promised for later this year. All this has changed little for the average Guinean, says Michael McGovern, an anthropologist at Yale University. The country's people still contend with the same lack of services and abusive security forces. Human Rights Watch accuses Guinean soldiers of rampant thievery, with raids on citizens' offices and homes disturbingly common. Drug trafficking has picked up and holds an ever tighter grip on the country's economy, and prices for the country's few legal exports are falling.
Refugees and extremists were perhaps Yemen's most noteworthy imports in 2008. More than 50,000 migrants from Somalia are thought to have made the trip by boat across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen last year. Although many left to work in the Persian Gulf, thousands more languish in the country with few rights or protections. Saudi al Qaeda members, viewing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as too weak to prevent them from organizing and training, have also poured in. "Everyone in Saudi knows that when you get in trouble, you go to Yemen," says Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In January, the two countries' al Qaeda branches announced a merger, and a Shiite rebellion near their border has flared on and off since 2004. Yemen's economy, meanwhile, is in dire straits. The government depends on fast-shrinking oil reserves for 80 percent of its budget. Population growth is pushing unemployment through the roof. Many wonder how much longer the country can merely muddle through.
4. Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia and Eritrea, bitter enemies whose borders are still militarized from conflict a decade ago, both jumped dramatically in their index scores this year. In Ethiopia, government clampdowns on opposition and NGO activity raised political tension, and an influx of Somali refugees exacerbated the low-level conflict in the Ogaden region. The drought-prone country was also hit particularly hard by skyrocketing food prices in the first half of 2008. Over the border, the Eritrean government is "truly in control to a frightening degree," says Human Rights Watch's Christopher Albin-Lackey. Because of young migrants fleeing the military draft—and the dismal internal conditions that have left 15 to 20 percent of children malnourished—Eritrea is now one of the largest exporters of refugees in the world.
With convenient access to Europe's vast illegal drug market and state institutions too weak to get in the way, Guinea-Bissau is fast becoming Africa's first narcostate. The street value of cocaine seized there in 2007 equaled a whopping 25 percent of the small country's GDP, and state security forces are believed to be complicit in the trade. "When drugs arrive with a lot of money, [the traffickers] find it easy to secure the services of Army people," claims Antonio Mazitelli of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Unfortunately for the country's ranking, 2009 hardly looks more stable: In March, the president and the Army chief of staff were assassinated.
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