For the last ten years Foreign Policy magazine has together with independent research institution Fund for Peace published a controversial annual list that was known as the Failed States Index, before being renamed the Fragile States Index due to what they said were the unique challenges faced by each country.
The 2014 rankings have now been released, and in keeping with trends on the list, Africa cuts a forlorn figure on the list, boasting the five worst nations in the “very high alert” category—rankings that have ensured that the index has army of critics on the continent.
The index is based in 12 indicators ranging from the economic and social to the political.
The methodology continues to stir up debate, but away from the headline numbers there are many things deep in the list that will surprise you—for both good and but reasons:
1: Zambia, which has a decent tradition of democratic elections, is ranked lower than South Sudan under the Democratic Progress indicator, and even Zimbabwe, Angola, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania.
2: Uganda has more refugees and Internally Displaced Persons than Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mali, Eritrea and Zambia.
3: Somalia, which is home to an entire aid industry and where 22,000 AU peacekeepers are daily battling Al-Shabaab militants, has less instance of external intervention—such as levels of foreign assistance— than Cote d’Ivoire.
4: Cameroon, ruled by an all-controlling, all-seeing strongman Paul Biya since 1982, has more factionalised elites—defined as conflict and competition among local and national leaders—than regional tinderboxes Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya. Burundi, known for its political fragility, is one of the star performers in this category.
5: Nigeria has more tension and violence among internal groups than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR), which both feature among the top five worst performers overall. Kenya comes in worse than Egypt and Zimbabwe.
6: More people leave relatively peaceful Malawi as migrants than they do the hotspots of Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Eritrea.
7: More Ghanaians have left their country for various reasons than they have DRC, CAR, or Nigeria…and South Sudan.
8: Kenya has more incidence of internal conflict and proliferation of non-state armed groups than civil war-stricken Mali and Egypt.
9: The Gambia, ruled by the much-maligned strongman Yahya Jammeh, has a better overall human rights record than Nigeria.
10: Somalia, recovering from two decades of civil war, is better at provision of education, health care, sanitation and other such human development services than Chad.
11: Not to be left behind, Eritrea also does better at public service provision than Tanzania, and Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy.
12: Somalia has a higher legitimacy of the state—a measure of how little corruption there is, and how better governance is, than both Zimbabwe and Guinea.
13: Nigeria again faces off with Eritrea, with both being at par under the same legitimacy of the state indicator.
14: Zambia, an African peace haven, has higher poverty rates, and a weaker economy, than off-radar Eritrea and post-conflict Liberia.
15: Libya, ravaged by armed groups and teeming with bandits, has better economic prospects than Tunisia and African star Botswana.
16: Botswana, with a population of only two million, has higher disparities in development among different groups than Uganda and Burundi.
17: Eritrea also does a better job of spreading the wealth around different groups than Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa.
18: The isolated Horn of Africa country that is Eritrea, seemingly the unheralded star of the index, is also viewed as a strong—or less fragile—state than Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
19. Sierra Leone, a permanent fixture since the Index started publishing its worst Top 10 in 2005, is now off the “Alert” category, the first country to make such an exit.
20: Zimbabwe, held down by the ever-green Robert Mugabe, was the most improved this year, in part due to constitutional reforms, and a quiet election by its past standards.