THE annual Fragile States Index is out, and for the second year running, South Sudan is at the top (or bottom) of the list. The conflict that broke out in December 2013 shows no signs of abating, peace talks between warring factions having collapsed.
Two-thirds of the country’s 12 million people need aid, and 4.5 million people face severe food insecurity, according to the UN; South Sudan is ranked “lower in terms of human development than just about every other place on earth,” expelled UN chief Toby Lanzer was recently quoted as saying. Lanzar was barred from South Sudan earlier this month after warning of an economic meltdown.
In South Sudan’s neighbourhood are the usual suspects – Somalia, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), all of which are mired in civil war or insurgencies of one form or the other, shows the rankings, published by the Fund For Peace.
Slow to change
Although Africa’s poor showing in the Index relative to other regions of the world is commonly understood to be because of deadly civil wars, conflict and insurgencies, as in the countries above, the real indicators driving down Africa’s performance as a whole are much less dramatic – they are slow, insidious, and difficult to change at the stroke of a decree or in a single election.
Africa gets docked the biggest points on the Index, as a result of its demographic pressures. The world’s youngest continent, more than two-thirds of the population is aged under-30, making it a decidedly more fragile place – particularly as job opportunities have not kept up with population growth.
Between 1970 and 2007, 80% of all new civil conflicts around the world occurred in countries with at least 60% of the population younger than age 30.
One study from the International Peace Research Institute showed that even after controlling for level of development, regime type, total population size and past outbreaks of conflict, countries with a large “youth bulge” were 150% more likely than those with more balanced age structures to experience civil conflict in the last half of the 20th century.
Lousy public service
Poor public services are the second reason Africa performs poorly on the Index, as well as uneven development. In effect, there are two Africas – one booming with shiny new malls and foreign investors, and another where poor communities are trapped in an inexorable cycle of poverty.
But the longer term trends in the Fragile States Index, reveals some interesting patterns, and suggests that attention should not only be on the typical “basket cases”; the red flags are also popping up in unexpected places.
Libya shows the biggest deterioration from 2014 to 2015, as various armed groups split the country among themselves. Last year, the “official” government headed by Abdullah al-Thinni was ousted from the capital Tripoli, and operates out of hotels in the eastern city of Benghazi; two armed groups jostle for the control of the city – and all the while, the Islamic State has taken advantage of the anarchy to establish a foothold on the African continent.
Mali also shows a large deterioration over the past year. Elections were held in October 2013 as the country tried to return to stability following the military coup and insurgency that broke out 18 months earlier, but renewed fighting in May 2014 splintered the fragile peace.
As of December 2014, nearly 140,000 Malian refugees have fled the country and are currently residing in neighbouring countries, while 100,000 are internally displaced.
The Ebola epidemic that gripped West Africa for the better part of last year led to a plunge in Liberia’s ranking on the Fragile States Index, as did Sierra Leone and Guinea’s. But the analysts say that structurally, there is reason to be hopeful that the three countries will return to an improving trend in the coming years.
Nigeria, already a fragile country facing internal political pressures and a ferocious campaign by Boko Haram insurgents in the north, saw its score worsen significantly as pre-election tensions mounted and its economy was beset with falling oil prices.
But Muhammadu Buhari’s victory and his peaceful transition into power has quietened the cynics somewhat, and raised hopes in the possibility of a maturing democracy in Nigeria.
Watch Senegal and S. Africa
It also reveals the limited predictive power of even time-tested markers of state fragility.
But looking at a longer trend over the past ten years, the biggest deterioration, apart from Libya, has been in Senegal, which the Index says terms “critical worsening”.
The drop in Senegal’s performance, though, is largely due to increased pressures from refugees and internally displaced people – Senegal hosts refugees from the region, principally Mali and Mauritania.
But even more significant is the sharp spike in the level of factionalised elites in the country. Long considered a bulwark of stability in a troubled neighbourhood, Senegal entered a period of mounting discontent and tension in the last years of Abdoulaye Wade’s term – the campaigns in 2011 and 2012 triggered riots in Dakar and other major cities.
Although Macky Sall’s victory in the presidential election in March 2012 calmed down the crisis, the country is yet to fully recover from the slowdown in economic growth.
Another big decline is in South Africa, which has experienced “significant worsening” in the rankings over the past decade. An economic slowdown is largely to blame, as well as mounting corruption and factionalisation of the political class, as the conversations become ever more shrill and leaders take more polarising positions.
But several countries have seen a strong improvement over the ten-year trend. Cote d’Ivoire is one of the world’s most improved, on the path to recovery following a deadly election crisis in 2009.
Zim gets better by doing nothing
Although still on high alert, Zimbabwe has seen a large improvement in its rankings on the index, both over the short term 12-month trend, and over the longer trend.
Despite not having made any major positive leaps towards greater democratic freedom, human rights reform or surges in economic growth, Zimbabwe has remained stable, and has improved in the indicators measuring human flight and the robustness of the public sector.
Gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign direct investment have all improved over the five-year trend.
Although many international sanctions are still in place and the political environment remains highly polarised, Zimbabwe in 2014 is in a much more stable position, slowly moving past the food, land and hyperinflation crises that rocked the country in the early 2000s.