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. Even with a relatively functional and pretty much autonomous "statelet" 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, Somalia 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 merchant vessels hostage has given the country a score that -- much as they seem to try -- neither Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can hope to match.
At first glance, the map tells a broader story of stagnation. A few outposts of relative order -- Western Europe, the north and south extremes of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, along with Japan and South Korea -- represent the world's hubs of sustainability and relative stability. But between those areas of green and yellow is an awful lot of red and orange, representing different degrees of danger. With some exceptions, the deepest shades of red can be found in South Asia and 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. Drought and poor harvests led to a food crisis in Niger. Although natural disasters affecting major population centers will almost always have a significant impact on countries, the state's capacity to adequately respond makes the difference between a manageable crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe.
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 President Paul Kagame, including further restrictions on the media and opposition groups, did no favors for the country's score card. But the picture in Africa is not all bad, with three of the top 10 most improved countries for 2011. Sudan and Chad improved their scores slightly largely due to minor abatements of existing conflicts in both countries; Algeria also improved substantially, in no small part due to the government's more effective combating of regional terrorist groups.
Surprisingly, two of the 10 most significant declines came in Western Europe: by Ireland, a victim of severe economic woes and recipient of an EU bailout, and Belgium, where even the threat of senior politicians' wives abstaining from connubial duties failed to inspire the formation of a government. Ireland's score worsened by 2.9 points, the fourth-worst year-on-year performance of any country, and Belgium's score worsened by 2.1 points, representing the tenth-greatest decline. (In a historic shift, Finland upended Norway as the best-performing country on this year's index.)
After Haiti, the second-most significant worsening was experienced by Kyrgyzstan, whose 2010 uprising, marred by ethnic and regional violence, has largely been forgotten as the world's attention has been diverted to the upheavals of the Arab Spring. (Stability is slowly returning under the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva.) Another of the largest deteriorations recorded was actually by Tunisia, the one Arab country whose revolution began within the index's data collection period.
There are, thankfully, some good news stories from this year's index. Although only three years ago the world looked on as Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, the small Black Sea country experienced the largest improvement of any state in the 2011 index, though much of it was recovered ground following the devastating war that uprooted thousands. Georgia has profited from significant government reforms to the security apparatus, including greater transparency and accountability, as well as a clampdown on endemic corruption. Both policies have led to a substantial 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 toward European integration. The Fund for Peace's decision 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. Nevertheless, like Georgia, Serbia's progress is still painfully slow.
Continued economic growth saw the scores of China and Peru improve markedly, with respective annual growth rates of 10 and 8.7 percent. Even Sudan, Chad, and East Timor -- all of which continue to experience significant hardship -- made modest improvement. In the Arab world, two countries largely untouched by much of the recent uprisings, 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. And let's not forget that on July 9, it is widely expected that Southern Sudan will be recognized as an independent country and U.N. member state.
Although all states are subject to pressures, stable and successful ones demonstrate an ability to deal with them effectively, and especially through their capacity to absorb shocks such as economic crises, protests, and natural disasters. The sad reality is that continued failure or inability to deal effectively with their problems will keep countries like Somalia, Sudan, and the DRC firmly anchored at the top of the Failed States Index for years to come.
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