Thursday, June 24, 2010

Most Failed Index

 Foreign Policy magazine published the 2010 Failed State Index this week. Somalia topped the list and can still be referred to as the most failed state in the world. Ignoring the awkward grammar of that title, what can be said about the functionality of the index and the sensibility of the concept?

Over at Aidwatchers, the concept is not well recieved:

One can only speculate about the political motives for inventing an incoherent concept like “state failure.” It gave Western states (most notably the US superpower) much more flexibility to intervene where they wanted to (for other reasons): you don’t have to respect state sovereignty if there is no state. After the end of the Cold War, there was less hesitation to intervene because of the disappearance of the threat of Soviet retaliation. “State failure” was even more useful as justification for the US to operate with a free hand internationally in the “War on Terror” after 9/11.

While the 'failed state' label may have its glaringly biased implications, the index itself is telling. It measures twelve signifiant variables including demographic pressure, refugees, human flight, uneven development, human rights, and public services. In doing so it thankfully does not label one state or another 'failed'. What can we glean from the index then?

Well, lets take for example the fact that Kenya is in the red but Eritrea is in the orange. I would argue that in Kenya people have more political freedom, more freedom of expression, more opportunity for advancement, more access to loanable funds, more mobility, and a freer press than in Eritrea. This index as you can see, does not count these factors. In Eritrea they have fewer refugees, less group grievance and more even development. So, Eritrea makes its way to a higher ranking despite having a dictatorial government that controls mobility and the economy.

The factors that make Kenya a more comfortable place to live have more to do with civil society and less with government than the factors taken into consideration for this index. Which factors are most important for understanding the socio-political situation in a country? As always, there is never one index that can please everyone.

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