Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Warning: Another Governance Index: Failed and Weak states

Quick question: What’s the most global buzzword from the post-Sept. 11 world? The term “Patriot”? No, that doesn’t have much traction outside of the White House. What about “no blood for oil”? Maybe, but I don’t think many people in poorer states have the desire to paint large banners and march around with them. I’ll give you a hint: it has something to do with the nexus of poverty and efficacy of government institutions. If you guess “failed or weak states,” you’re right.

These are the countries with weak and very opaque governance structures; leaders with an obsession with state security coupled with a certain ambivalence to personal security; and, a government’s inability (for whatever reasons) to meet the basic needs of its citizens. In shorthand, as the Center for Global Development points out, failed (or weak) states are encumbered with little or no capacity, a lack of legitimacy and some serious security concerns. (Say that three times.)

However you stir it, it all adds up to a pretty messy chowder. Those in the know have blamed failed states for causing a lot of ruckus in the world. Afghanistan was a failed state for years until it was “civilized” by the Taliban. One could argue Iraq is a failed state, or two and a half failed states. In Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Zimbabwe have all been mentioned as pretty much failed. To review, these are countries which could be in the middle of civil wars or rebellions. And because the government doesn’t exert full “control” of its territory, it could “fall prey to a host of transnational security problems” (says the Brookings Institution) like the nesting of terror groups with global or regional aspirations, organized crime syndicates and their array of drug, people or weapon smuggling; or, finally civil conflicts that tend to spill across borders.

For the Brookings Institution, poverty appears to be a deciding factor: Poor states tend to be weak states. (Or, is that poorer states tend to be weaker states?) It’s not a direct correlation, but it sure is close: Indigent states are often encumbered with weak institutions, or one could say a fair share of poverty is fertile soil for a strong centralized state with limited capacity for governance and/or little regard for its citizens.

Following this path of logic, it may be no wonder that sub-Saharan Africa has a high concentration of weak and failed states. But Africa – and extreme poverty – is not the only problem here. Researchers found that even better performing states have performance gaps (Columbia, for instance, and Mali, Nigeria), which should be addressed by outside interests, like donors, other “partners,” institutions, civil society and other countries. (Is this an argument for providing more of a political intervention role for the African Union?)

I heart rankings
Anyway, the Brookings Institution has classified five major factors that must be taken into consideration for a state’s failed-ness: economic freedom; political freedom; security and social welfare. Taking statistics from a bevy of sources, Brookings has then aggregated this information and created two things: a ranking system for each of the five factors, broken down by quintiles and an overall score, which is placed in groups of 20 percent increments. (For those with knowledge of the U.S. school system, think of the top quintile as the equivalent of receiving an A, the second 20 percent is graded as a B and so on. Of course, this idea metes out a lot of Fs, a mark few working at Brookings may have ever seen.)

For example, Mali could score poorly in two areas – social welfare and GNI per capita (defined below) – but the country’s other benefits – political freedom and security – combines it give the country a pretty high score (fourth best in West Africa).

Anyway, here’s the breakdown and some comment of West Africa’s rankings:

Liberia: Number 9 in the world of failed states (the higher the “ranking” the better): Really not so bad for a country a few year’s away from a civil war. It ranks in the bottom quintile in all categories, except political rights (which are defined vaguely as government effectiveness, rule of law, corruption and political freedoms.) Some would argue this is the right place to start. Tell that to someone unemployed. The trend to watch is the country’s very low ranking in GNI per capita.

Cote d’Ivoire: Number 10. The only thing that separates these two states is Cote d’Ivoire’s slightly higher ranking in economics – GDP growth, income inequality and inflation control, among others – and GNI per capita. It does have a very low political rights score.

Sierra Leone: Number 13. Better economic, political and GNI ranking than the previous two, although social welfare – child mortality, number of children in school, life expectancy – is very low.

Chad: Number 16: Pretty good economic and security grades, relatively speaking. A number of factors help define “Security,” including: political stability, incidence of coups, human rights abuses and if the territory has been affected by conflict.

Guinea-Bissau: Number 18: Economics and politics are pretty good. Are the media (and Africa Flak) blowing this country’s issues out of proportion?

Niger: Number 21: An odd ranking, with politics and economics in the fourth tier, and security also receiving OK marks. What rebellion?

Guinea: Number 23: A so-so security grade pushes this country up.

Togo: Number 26: It’s near the top of the bottom quintile. That’s got to be good for something. Where would the country have been three years ago?

Nigeria: Number 28: Security issues bring this country down to the bottom quintile. Everything else is a #4. But really, shouldn’t it be better?

Mauritania: Number 37: Welcome to the fourth tier, West Africa. Other than economic freedom, which ranks pretty well, this country’s categories all fall within the fourth tier. (A solid D student.) What will happen in a year or two?

Burkina Faso: Number 44: Think of how big jump it is between here and Nigeria. Poor social welfare and GNI scores are offset by economic freedom and political scores and a rockin’ security grade.

Gambia: Number 51: Low GNI offset by a good grade in security and a C in politics. Is that deserved?

Mali: Number 52: The same story of a poor country with low social welfare scores being propped up by good security, politics and economic freedom indicators. Mali is near the top of the fourth quintile.

Senegal: Number 68: Another big jump between two countries, putting Senegal right in the middle of quintile number 3. Relatively, this country needs to improve in social welfare (and political rights) to bring it up even further. Mr. Wade, we’re looking at you.

Benin: Number 71: We’re now getting to the big-boys. Is this why George Bush visited? With Benin, it’s the same old, same old: Bring up the social welfare and GNI and you’ll move up to the second quintile. According to Brookings, the government is doing the right things.

Ghana: Number 84: One wonders how difficult it would be for Benin to move up to Ghana’s level? Ghana is tops for the third quintile – that’s a C + for effort – and still is afflicted with the same issues of economics and GNI. That could mean that West Africa has a long way to go in governance and security, pretty good scores notwithstanding; or, Ghana’s economic growth shoots the country to this territory.

Report cards
To review, it’s no coincidence that West Africa’s bottom three – Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone – are post-conflict states. Government services and stability may be tenuous, but in Liberia and Sierra Leone, things are decidedly looking up. I’ll argue it’s too early to tell in Cote d’Ivoire, which was economically much better off than these two countries and experienced a shorter period of instability and war. (Although its period of instability was longer than most people care to admit. Economically, the country had been falling since the late 1980s, but because it was so much richer and more developed, had much further to “fall.”)

Anomalies make up the next group. It’s hard to grade a country like Niger, which excels in some areas and fares very poorly in others: human rights, security and other issues relating to the rebellion. Is it time people take this issue more seriously? Or, are some – Africa Flak included – blowing it out of proportion?

Guinea and Togo seem like right-on marks. Nigeria seems like a perfect bi-polar country. Some of it happens to be well functioning, other parts of it are completely lost. I have no issues with Mauritania and Burkina Faso, although the next few years will be telling for both (and they could be headed in opposite directions). Gambia is an odd choice for 51, but what do I know? And, the top four of the region – Mali, Senegal, Benin and Ghana – are all deservedly in their places.

But questions remain. If you had a finite development budget and already ear-marked some of the funds for the bottom three countries – or at least the two Anglophone countries and kept a close eye on the near future of Cote d’Ivoire – where would you put your money? Would you aid the top four countries to reward better run governments? Or, would you go start right near the bottom – Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger – and try to prop them up?

Here’s another question: Will it be more difficult for a country like Liberia to ascend – up to say the top of the fifth percentile – than it will be for Mauritania and Burkina Faso to climb into the next level?

My plea for more
Yeah, rankings like this have a certain artificial reality about them. (Do these numbers signify the truth or are they the mirror that projects reality?) And yes, they’re nice for bored political scientists and journalists who have nothing better to do with their weekday mornings. In the end, though, statistics and rankings such as these get people talking about what are the ingredients of good governance and how can people a make their country to be a better place to live. Those are important debates. Not only for those writing the checks, but more for those truly affected.

After living for awhile in and around countries with low rankings – hello, second poorest country in the world – I enjoy looking at the statistics of the developed nations, too. It would be interesting – albeit time consuming to prepare – to see where these other countries land. (I bet you can write a grant for that, right?) Brookings would have to take into account a handful of separatist movements spread among the rich and the fact that a few countries suffer inexplicably high levels of violent crime (for their corresponding GNI) and some populations are not getting the services they most richly deserve. It’s not just sub-Saharan Africa that fails in those areas, you know.

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