African nations still top '10 Worst' in Fragile States Index but Liberia, Sierra Leone give hope

Zimbabwe surprisingly took the top spot for Africa’s most improved nation this year, and Central African Republic declined the most in the world

The time of year has come when the Fund for Peace publishes the Fragile States Index. Formerly known as the Failed State Index (but renamed because that name sounded too negatively fated) the index is a ranking of 178 nations based on their levels of stability and the pressures they face. For 10 years now, the index has painted a fairly macabre image of African nations. Since 2005 there have been four countries consistently ranked in the top ten “worst” of the index – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Somalia and Chad: all African.

This year the bad news kept coming. The five worst nations in the “very high alert” category are:

1.   South Sudan (112.9)

2.   Somalia (112.6)

3.   Central African Republic (CAR) (110.6)

4.   Democratic Republic of Congo (110.2)

5.   Sudan (110.1)

The world’s newest country, South Sudan’s recent descent into civil war dethroning Somalia, which had topped the list of the very worst for the past six years, makes it the most fragile state in the world.

What these indicators have shown is that rarely, if ever, do states change fundamentally from year to year. The persistence of the four African nations in the top ten worst and the dramatic turn of events it took to shift Somalia from the top spot illustrates this. What is more apparent however is that a country can become more fragile or violent quickly, making it’s way up the list easily – coming down is much harder.

There are some notable mentions from the continent for the most improved and most in decline since 2013. Bearing in mind that a lower score is better, here are the top five for each:

Most Improved

1.   Zimbabwe (decrease of 2.4)

2.   Cote d’Ivoire (decrease of 1.8)

3.   DRC (decrease of 1.7)

4.   Sierra Leone and Somalia (decrease 1.3)

5.   Burkino Faso (decrease 1.2)

Greatest Decline

1.   Central African Republic (increase of 5.3 points)

2.   Libya (increase of 3.3 points)

3.   Mozambique (increase of 3.1 points)

4.   South Sudan (increase of 2.3 points)

5.  (Tied) Djibouti, Ghana, Mauritius (1.6 points)

Frequently a nation not associated with positive indicators because of the ham-fisted rule of President Robert Mugabe and poor human rights records, Zimbabwe surprisingly took the top spot for Africa’s most improved nation this year. This improvement is attributed to some positive political reforms, including approving a new constitution that limits future presidents to two terms. And though the country still struggles with poverty, Zimbabwe has seen significant economic growth in recent years.

In contrast CAR was recorded as the most-deteriorated country for 2014 out of all 178 nations in the index. The central African country was beset by civil war and widespread atrocities over the past year that led to the deployment of French and African Union peacekeeping forces. To the North, Libya was the overall third most-deteriorated country in the index. In the 2012 Index, Libya set a record for the most severe year-on-year worsening of a country in the history of the Index (a record that still stands), rising from 50th to 11th as the civil war’s effects took hold. Libya stabilised somewhat in 2013 as it began to rebuild in the aftermath of the Gaddafi era. But the hope for groundbreaking change was quashed this year with renewals of violence.

For the nations declining in fragility, the climb back to stability will be arduous – but not impossible. The index had two hopeful African stories in the form of Sierra Leone and Liberia, both demonstrating how it took a generation to improve, but that it can happen.

In 2005 Sierra Leone featured in the Fragile State Index’s first ever Top 10 as it grappled to cope with the impact of the country’s decade-long civil. But the West African nation managed to gradually rise and this year, Sierra Leone became the first ever country to exit the “Alert” category after having once been as high as the Top 10. Similarly, Liberia was another once war-ravaged country that was able to recover to increasing levels of stability. Also initially appearing in the first 2005 “Top 10”, Liberia has made progress over the past decade that it may well soon move out of the Alert category.

African nations not faring well on the index can learn a few lessons from these two cases – hopefully preventing them from slipping further down the list or slowly moving out of the more worrying “Alert” category. 

Firstly, the report states that peace building is a “long-term proposition”. Countries and their governments should be willing to take the necessary steps and measures for long-term sustained improvement. It took Sierra Leone ten years to improve. 

Secondly, for effective peace building to take place the report describes how knitted together neighbouring countries are and that a “regional perspective” must also be taken “because a state may be unitary in theory but the neighborhood plays a major role in its trajectory.” 

Finally, the report highlighted the importance that business has in ensuring peace – political leadership and security forces can only do so much – ensuring that the positive course continues is also in the hands of civil society. In the case of Sierra Leone after a decade of economic stagnation, the nation’s GDP per capita turned around in 2000, more than trebling over the next ten years.


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