Somalia Tops Failed State Index for Fifth Straight Year
Rarely are the words "stable" and "consistent" used to describe Somalia, a country that has spent a majority of the past two decades mired in near-perpetual civil war. However, in the case of the Fund for Peace's annual Failed States Index (FSI), the aforementioned adjectives could, unfortunately enough, be applied to the troubled East African state.
For the fifth straight year, Somalia earned the dubious distinction of topping the index, which "ranks instability risks of 177 nations based on 12 social, economic, and political indicators," including "violations of human rights and rule of law," "legitimacy of the state," and "uneven economic development," among others. This year, the Fund for Peace cited Somalia's "widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, and well-publicized pirate attacks against foreign vessels" as the primary reasons for the country's continued presence at the top of the list.
Of course, though Somalia remains the African continent's most egregious example of endemic instability, it was far from the only African country to be represented on the FSI. In fact, the index's top five spots were occupied by African nations, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Chad, and Zimbabwe joining Somalia near the top of the list.*
Elsewhere, the effects of the Arab Spring engendered sharp rises in instability for several Middle Eastern and North African countries. In particular, Libya and Syria, two countries which have bore witness to popular uprisings against repressive governments, both experienced a sharp climb in the FSI, jumping 61 and 25 spots, respectively.
Of course, as has been pointed out by others, the FSI is far from a perfect statistical measure. As The Indian Express noted in 2008, "[the FSI's] indicators are difficult to pin down and quantify," and there is an "inherent subjectivity" involved in making the cross-country comparisons that the index relies upon. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that a country's rise in instability is not necessarily a wholly negative development. In the case of Libya, for example, that country's jump in the FSI came largely as the result of a civil war that ultimately led to the overthrow of a dictator. In this situation, Libya's rise in the FSI will hopefully be a temporary development, as the Libyan people lay the foundation for democratic institutions that should, in theory, create a more stable society.
Nonetheless, despite these flaws, the FSI remains a useful diagnostic tool for highlighting instability in broad strokes. Clearly, Somalia's consistent presence at the top of the index is a troubling trend, and one that seems unlikely to be reversed in the near future, as the country continues to be plagued by an insurgency led by the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. Though African Union peacekeepers have made some progress against al-Shabaab, pushing the group out of several strategic strongholds and cutting it off from economic lifelines, analysts assert that these gains are "unlikely to deliver the knock-out blow hoped for by Mogadishu and its allies." Moreover, though the Islamist insurgency is a major reason for Somalia's instability, it is far from the only contributing factor. Specifically, the central government's limited reach and general ineffectiveness prevent it from consolidating the gains made by African Union forces. An analysis by Reuters summarizes the governance problems facing Mogadishu:
Two decades after Somalia's civil conflict erupted, the central government still exerts little meaningful control beyond the capital. Security analysts say al Shabaab could take advantage of power vacuums if concrete political administration and reform does not keep pace with military advances.
"All the attention is on getting rid of al Shabaab. Then what? There are no institutions ... to implement the rule of law," said London-based Somali analyst Hamza Mohamed.
"They are not solving the issues that gave rise to al Shabaab. They're just putting a bandage on a gaping wound."
What becomes apparent, then, is that creating a stable Somalia will require a two-pronged approach, one that focuses both on degrading the insurgent presence in the country and creating a central government capable of providing effective institutions and services in those areas from which the insurgents are removed. Unless these two conditions are met, it seems unlikely that Somalia will be removed from its perch atop the FSI anytime soon.
For the full index, check out the Fund for Peace's official website.
*While Africa dominates the ranks of the world's most unstable countries, Scandinavia possesses a similar stranglehold on the bottom of FSI, with Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland being judged as four of the world's five most stable countries.
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