- Category: JIDEOFOR ADIBE
- Published on Saturday, 07 July 2012 22:09
- Written by Jideofor Adibe
The 2012 edition of the Failed State Index published by Funds for Peace, an independent research and educational organisation based in Washington DC, United States of America and promoted by the conservative Foreign Policy journal, has been generating debates and angst in some quarters. The Index, which is published
alongside the so-called Postcards from Hell – a gallery of some of the world’s most troubled states- makes a depressing reading and often raises more questions than the answers it proffers. Published since 2005, regrettably, some of the very brilliant answers it proffers seem to be addressed to the wrong questions. I will come back to this later.
Many Nigerians have been angry that the country is ranked in the category of failed states. It should be recalled that Nigeria first moved into the league of the worst 20 cases in 2007 - when it was ranked 17th. The following year the country’s ranking improved marginally to 19th position before deteriorating in 2009 to 15th. Since 2010, the country has maintained its 14th spot on the Index. This means in essence that the exceptionally huge security challenges the country faced from Boko Haram last year and this year appear not to have affected the country’s ranking in the Index. It is also important to underline that the country had already entered the ‘league of infamy’ in the Index before Boko Haram began its terrorist activities in January 2010, meaning that the country would still have been in the Index even without BH. The first 20 countries in the Index are regarded as ‘failed’ states. For the fifth consecutive year, Somalia topped the ranking.
There are several issues with the Failed State Index.
One, indices are notoriously difficult to construct and even harder to perfect amid competing methodologies and data sources. The Failed State Index uses several parameters, most of them subjectively determined – population pressures, the number of refugees in a country, how factionalised the elites of a country are, a state’s capacity to provide public services, extent of uneven development and of course a state’s ability to enforce its statutory monopoly of legitimate instruments of coercion in its domain. Overall, the Index’s headline indicators are weighted summaries from more than 100 sub- indicators. Like most indices of this nature, conclusions you reach will often depend on your initial assumptions on each parameter. It is really on the underlying assumptions that value judgments get loaded, triggering controversies in the process. For instance just by relying on a different set of assumptions, Noam Chomsky, the American linguist, historian and activist, in his famous book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006) argues that the US itself was becoming a ‘failed state’ and therefore a danger to its people. The obvious methodological weaknesses in the compilation of the Failed State Index also make it unable to capture the important differences between state collapse, state failure and state fragility, leading to an unhelpful ossification of the three into the unhelpful binary of failed or not failed states.
Obviously because the Failed State Index – like most other indices - try to capture the variables on which it is measuring and ranking states in statistical forms, it comes out looking impressive. However as the American writer Darrel Huff tells us in his very influential book How to Lie With Statistics (1954), you can use figures, graphs and tables to hoodwink and blackmail or to make yourself appear cleverer than you really are. The Failed State Index – intentionally or unintentionally has been able to do just this for eight years running - and getting away with it.
Two, it may not be out of place to interrogate the motive of the sponsors of the Failed State Index. If the aim is to provide early warning systems, then there are already several institutions and programmes devoted to studying potentially vulnerable spots such as the Crisis State Research Centre at the London School of Economics. There is a suspicion among some development scholars that the Index may not be unlinked with a desire to rejuvenate the ‘help industry’ in the West. Obviously as the traditional areas of ‘help’ – fighting famine in the Horn of Africa, AIDS in Africa, landmines, child soldiers from Africa etc begin to lose their allure, the ‘help industry’ that creates lucrative jobs for consultants appears to have come under pressure to justify the need for its continued existence or why it should be given new money. Is the Failed State Index one such creative way of ensuring that the ‘help industry’ continues to retain its significance because if states are designated as failing there will obviously be a need to do something to build their capacity so that they do not fail and overwhelm the West with refugees? Remarkably in April 2010, a group calling itself the G7+ was formed. It was supposed to be a group of seven ‘of the world’s most fragile states’. The membership of the group is said to have grown to 17 and the countries in the group claimed they came together to “share experiences” and “lobby international actors to engage more effectively in fragile and conflict-affected countries and regions”. Cynics obviously want to know at whose instance the group was formed.
Three, the Failed State Index reinforces the essentialist construction of Africa and the narratives and innuendos that go with it. Over 99 percent of the worst performing countries in the index are from Africa and other parts of the developing world. Agreed, many of the countries in Africa and the developing world are underperforming economically. But a fundamental reason why they underperform is the condition of underdevelopment which has several economic and non-economic symptoms or manifestations such as inability to provide public services and factionalised elites which engage in anarchic struggle for power because state power is often the most effective means of material accumulation in these countries. Several of the symptoms of this fundamental problem of underdevelopment are already captured in a pick-and- choose manner by other indices such as the United Nations Human Development Index, the Ease of Doing Business Index among countries, the Sustainable Governance Index etc. The condition of being underdeveloped economies naturally means that Africa’s rankings in these indices will be low, explaining why African and other developing countries are the worst performers in all available global indices. It is like four different indices each ranking people according to how healthy they look, their physical strength, how briskly they work and how fast they can run. A man who is severely ill with malaria and has suffered loss of appetite as a result will be poorly captured by each of the four indices even though his only problem is that he is suffering from malaria. Being poorly captured by each of the four indices will lead into a self-fulfilling prophecy – the man is no good and there are ‘facts and figures’ to back it up.
Africa and other underdeveloped countries are ranked low in several global indices because these indices are abstracting the symptoms of our fundamental problem of underdevelopment and elevating them to a defining characteristic of who we are. This is both essentialist and reductionist. There is nothing genetic, geographic or pigmentational about the African condition – contrary to the impression these indices give.
Four, there is also an impression that these Indices are being mischievously used by some Western countries to promote nationalism and internal cohesion by subtly letting their citizens know that as much as things may be difficult for them, they are infinitely better off than people in several countries and they can easily draw attention to the relative ranking of their countries in these indices. This ‘feel good’ factor is however created at the expense of others who may then become unwitting victims of institutionalised discrimination. For many in the West, the indices and their higher rankings in them are a confirmation of their inherent superiority. Will you then blame employers who, after reading several of such indices refuse to employ people from certain parts of the world? Have statistics not shown those people are not good enough?
Five, a critique of the Failed State Index is not to deny that several countries in Africa, including Nigeria, face serious challenges. I believe that Nigeria has a severe crisis in its nation-building project. I do not believe that as a country we can make much progress, no matter what our purported growth figures tell us, without first resolving the crisis we face in the construction of a viable nation-state. However, despite this severe challenge, my belief is that if we move away from a focus on the political arena – which is inherently conflictual anyway - one encounters several seeds of hope, not just in the resilient way people confront their daily challenges but even more importantly in a feeling that a putative ‘imagined community’ may be taking shape.