NEWS 2005

 

Report: Why Kenya is a failed state

Story by MWANGI GITHAHU
NATION, Nairobi
Publication Date: 10/2/2005

Despite all appearances to the contrary, a report by a US research organisation has classed Kenya as being among the world's failed states. 

In its July/August edition, the magazine, Foreign Policy, in conjunction with the Fund for Peace, published what they called the first failed states index. 

Foreign Policy is a bimonthly magazine published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. 

Its areas of focus include global politics, economics, integration and ideas, and targets a non-specialised audience and claims a readership of 10 million in 90 countries.

But to many people living in Kenya, the country's condemnation might be an exaggeration. They might argue that while the political, economic and social situations could in no way be described as ideal, it would be unfair to call the country a failure.

Reached for comment, Foreign Affairs assistant minister Moses Wetang'ula, told the Sunday Nation that the report is "balderdash and ridiculous in the extreme." 

Kenya is the exact opposite of a failed state, he said, and cited the fact that it is the only developing country hosting the headquarters of a UN agency.

Basket cases

"Kenya is a regional and continental powerhouse that makes a critical contribution to peace-keeping missions around the world and is respected across the board," he added.

The term, "failed states," was popularised, if not actually invented, by Canadian author Michael Ignatieff in his book, The Warriors Honour. 

In the book, he cites warlords, militias and other irregular armies operating in parts of Africa, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union as proof of states which quite rightly fit the bill.

To most people, failed states are basket cases such as Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of former Soviet Union and, not so long ago, parts of former Yugoslavia.

According to a report that ran alongside the index, "about 2 billion people live in countries that are in danger of collapse." 

While admitting that identifying the signs of state failure is easier than crafting solutions, the report claims that pinpointing where the state collapse is likely is a necessary first step.

In an attempt to categorise the failed states in the index, the report claims that the World Bank has identified about 30 "low-income countries under stress," whereas Britain’s Department for International Development has named 46 "fragile" nations of concern. 

The report claims also that another commissioned by America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has put the number of failing states at about 20. The 76 countries surveyed are ranked from those at the greatest risk – Cote d'Ivoire at No. 1– to the least – India at 76. 

All are, however, worryingly described as "countries about to go over the brink." 

Kenya is ranked 25th from the bottom, worse off, apparently, than neighbours Uganda at 27 and Tanzania at 34.

The foreign policy report explains that a failed state is "a government that has lost control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force and has thus earned the label." 

However, it expands this definition to: "There can be more subtle attributes of failure. Some regimes, for example, lack the authority to make collective decisions or the capacity to deliver public services."

Casting the net for failed states even wider, the report says that "in other countries, the populace may rely entirely on the black market, fail to pay taxes or engage in large-scale civil disobedience. Outside intervention can be both a symptom of and a trigger for state collapse."

Finally, "a failed state may be subject to involuntary restrictions of its sovereignty, such as political or economic sanctions, the presence of foreign military forces on its soil, or other military constraints, such as a no-fly zone".

The report says that the 10 most at-risk countries in the index have shown clear signs of state failure. It says Cote d'Ivoire is "a country cut in half by civil war" and calls it the most vulnerable to disintegration. The report suggests that the country would probably collapse completely if the UN peace-keeping forces pulled out. 

The West African nation is followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Yemen, Liberia and Haiti. All of these are easily identifiable as failed states, it says.

However, the index includes countries in which it claims instability is less widely acknowledged, including Bangladesh (17 from the bottom), Kenya (25), Guatemala (31), Egypt (38), Saudi Arabia (45) and Russia (59).

Vulnerability to violence

In the Fund for Peace survey, 12 social, economic, political and military indicators were used to rank the countries in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict "using software that analysed data from tens of thousands of international and local media sources from the last half of 2004."

Countries in the top 10 – those most at risk of "going over the brink" – include the DRC, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Yemen and Liberia. The next 10 include Afghanistan, Rwanda, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic.

The four so-called failed states listed before Kenya are Venezuela, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma and Uzbekistan.

Least failed are countries such as India, China and Malaysia which are at 76, 75 and 74, respectively. 

Then there are nations such as Algeria, the Gambia and Russia at 61, 60 and 59, respectively. The report say failed states have made "a remarkable odyssey from the periphery to the very centre of global politics." It claims that during the Cold War, "state failure was seen through the prism of superpower conflict and was rarely addressed as a danger in its own right."