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Failed state

By Rohan Patnaik

Uganda must do more on poverty, insecurity, and state trust

Foreign Policy, the global ideas magazine published in the USA on June 20 released its 2011 Failed States Index.

As in the past,  this 7th annual report ranks 177 countries worldwide from worst to best based on state failure using 12 indicators including poverty, insecurity, poor public service delivery, overpopulation, uneven development, and public mistrust of the government.

These components have all been used to create an index which ranks states from worst to best based on state’s ability to ensure a stable government.  “Failed states” are those nations in which the government is perceived to have failed to fulfill its basic responsibilities. A high ranking in the Failed States Index is, therefore, not a positive indication, but instead a negative indication.

Of the 20 most failed nations, 14 were from Africa.  Beginning with Somalia, the list has Sudan in third worst position, the DRC as fourth, Zimbabwe as sixth, Kenya at 16, Burundi 17, and Uganda at 21.  North Korea is just below at the rank of 22.   Of the five nations in the East African Community, only Tanzania and Rwanda are outside the worst thirty.

So what does it mean for a state to fail?  How is state failure measured?


Foreign Policy (FP) magazine has developed a system to measure state failure based on how incapable a government is of keeping control over its internal affairs.  If a government is unable to prevent relative chaos, protect necessary human rights, increase the standard of living, be trusted, or foster democratic ideals, it is inched towards the failed states category.

The 12 indicators on which Foreign Policy and the American think tank, The Fund for Peace, base their rankings include overpopulation, the existence of refugees and internally displaced persons, complaints from minority groups, human flight, uneven infrastructure development, and public mistrust of the state. Others include economic decline, lack of public services, violations of human rights, effectiveness of its security organs, external intervention, and disunity among the elite.

So where does Uganda stand?

This week, The Independent has decided to investigate Foreign Policy’s claims in regards to the East African Community.

Let us start from the top-down, beginning with the worst among us, Kenya.

Despite its infant constitution that divests the central government of excess power, Kenya has maintained its unfavorable place in the top 20, a spot that it earned in the aftermath of the tainted 2007 elections.  Sitting in the same category as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Niger, and Ethiopia, Kenya scores worst when it comes to overpopulation, mistrust of the state, uneven infrastructure development, and disunity among the elite.  As refugees from Sudan and Somalia flood the northern region of Kenya, the density of population has exceeded the government’s capacity to control the region.

On the streets, people talk of unfair elections.  Every time an election takes place, international observers constantly note the corruption which takes place in Kenyan politics.  The untouchable political elite often fight internally, leaving the majority of the population without adequate leadership.  Development projects often center around wealthy areas as slums such as Kibera are left without relative upgrades.  Infrastructure development also remains uneven as money is often diverted to urban development as opposed to rural projects.  To add to the issue, analysts have reported that out of all the stock markets in Africa, Kenya’s is the worst performing, leading to the possibility of further economic decline.  With the new constitution which came into effect last August, Kenya’s ranking is set to become better as the common people begin to have a larger say in government.

Just below, at the rank of seventeen, is Burundi.  With a shattered economy following armed conflict in the country, Burundi is one of the poorest nations in the world.  With the inability to provide basic public services to its people, foreign intervention is a necessity in the nation.  Unable to take care of its own people, Burundi is held captive to external actors and hence, has earned a high spot in the list of failed states.

Uganda is ranked unfavourably due to negative public perception of the current regime.  It is a rank that Uganda has occupied for the last three years.  The government’s ability to protect its nation is doubted as fears of terror attacks pervade the public.    Overpopulation within the country is said to contribute greatly towards its poor ranking, along with issues such as a small middle class. Refugee camps in the north may have been reduced but they caused the same problems as they did in Kenya: they led not only to population pressures but also security issues.  In such regions, relative anarchy is prevalent as it becomes difficult for the government to ensure safety and security for all its citizens.  Furthermore, the perceived de-legitimisation of President Yoweri Museveni’s regime, as viewed on the eyes of the public, has lead to increased distrust of the government.

As corruption pervades the police force and the military and Museveni’s political power is perceived by some to be illegitimate, credibility wanes, and the state is said to be inching towards failure.

Rwanda, considered the success story of Africa to the West, shares a relatively stable rank among its East African brethren.  Population pressures hold its economic growth captive as more and more people are born into an environment unable to sustain itself.  Where Rwanda clearly excels in regards to his neighbors, is when it comes to its security apparatus.  Rwanda, with one of the most modern militaries in the region, finds itself with a relatively well-funded military which protects its borders — even extending its reach into the Democratic Republic of Congo, in order to protect its own security interests.

Its economy has done far better than many of its neighbors as the international community has begun to see Rwanda as a gemstone within Eastern Africa.  Flights now go direct to Kigali from European destinations, increasing investments and tourism in the country.  With a rising economy, Rwanda is able to prevent the exodus of its people to its neighbors, making it a leading powerhouse in the region.

Tanzania, with its ranking at 65 is considered the nation with the least trouble in the East African Community.  Where they face the most issues is in the rapid deterioration of public services offered throughout the country.  With the dismantling of former socialist services offered throughout the country, there has been increased liberalisation and capitalisation in the market.  In such a process, temporary crisis is inevitable as the nation begins to adapt to its new capitalistic mindset which empowers the common man.  Following its move towards a more capitalistic system, the government has divested control over a majority of former state-owned entities.  Economic growth, although relatively slow now, is set to grow.

But why are the East African rankings so bad?  Why is it that the countries of the EAC have failed when it comes to state governance?

However unfortunate these rankings seem, they are, nevertheless,  relatively accurate representations of state failure.  An adequate answer to these questions comes only if you contextualise the situation.

Let us begin with a negative example before we jump towards the positive.  Just below Uganda, at  rank 22, sits North Korea.  Although it has a horrible reputation, and the nation is practically as delegitimate as possible, it still maintains relative control over its territory.  It does not have a refugee crisis pouring in from bordering regions.  Nor does it have a massive exodus of people as seen in many nations of East Africa.  Although it remains a blatant authoritarian dictatorship, the state itself, cannot be seen as failing as it clearly maintains much influence worldwide and is able to control its internal affairs adequately.

The United States, with a much better ranking, is without a doubt, much more stable.  Being a nation with older roots than countries of the EAC, it has resolved many decisive political and social issues within the country.  Elections, although divisive, are always deemed to be fair; those who win, however unpopular they may actually be, still command relative respect within their nation and abroad.  Once elected, leadership is not disputed and power is efficiently transitioned.  The US security apparatus is unrivaled internationally and people are relatively unlikely to emigrate elsewhere.  There are many means of group grievances to be heard as the media is allowed to voice itself in relatively liberal means and public services are offered universally.

Hence, the rankings as demonstrated by the 2011 Failed States Index, although embarrassing to the region, are fairly accurate.  In regards to the indicators used, the governments of East Africa are, indeed, less able to maintain control over their own countries as opposed to those modern societies of North America, and homogenous societies of Europe.

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