This week, I was surprised to read the 2011 Failed States Index, which was covered extensively in the media.
The report, published annually by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, ranks all the world’s countries using 12 indicators of “state vulnerability”.
Some of the variables include economic stability, human rights, refugee status, internally displaced persons and security.
One would expect Somalia and DRC to make the top of this list, but surely not Kenya. Right? Wrong. I was shocked to see Kenya listed as the 16th-most ‘failed’ State in the world.
Furthermore, the report claims that all of East Africa is “in danger”. The kicker is that none of Africa’s 56 countries is “stable”. Not even obvious candidates like Ghana, Senegal and South Africa.
Although I am an American citizen, I have lived in Kenya continuously for about a year volunteering with a microfinance organisation.
While that doesn’t qualify me at all as an expert on Kenyan affairs, I thought the inclusion of Kenya as a failed state is misplaced.
Indeed, I am disappointed by the few who continue to hold a bias towards African countries as poor, unsafe, dirty and incapable of sustainable development.
Of particular note is the “Postcards from Hell” section of the same report, which has posted images of the world’s most failed states.
Kenya is represented by a picture of a man lying on the ground covered with blood, his hands clasped. Is this picture a fair and balanced view of life in Kenya? I don’t think so.
Sadly, many people’s views in my country and other places around the world are shaped by what they see in the media and in such over-dramatised reports.
Such stereotypes distort far more complex realities and exacerbate insensitive and exploitative relations. Kenya is quite far from a failed state. On the contrary, it is the shining star of East Africa.
It is the economic hub of the region – the telecommunications, transportation, and financial services of East Africa revolve around Kenya.
In 2011, Kenya’s GDP was $71.43 billion, registering real GDP growth of five per cent – almost three times stronger than the US growth rate in 2011.
Why do countless multinational corporations seeking entry into African markets come specifically to Kenya? With infrastructure investments and ICT innovations, Kenya is now brushing shoulders with regional power-houses.
Definitely, Kenya has its challenges – security needs closer attention, and there is still a lot more to be done to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life. But amplifying these challenges is a real disservice to Kenyans.
True, the sting of the 2007-2008 post-election violence is still with us. Yes, the government has to address corruption and Al-Shabaab has brought fear. But relative to many other countries, Kenya has made impressive strides.
As regards to equality, corruption and social protection, I am convinced that the ongoing momentum to implement a new and progressive Constitution will address many of these challenges.
Westerners have to become more aware of these biases in the media, development projects, and think-tank publications. But we have a long way to go – the Failed States Index provides a timely reminder.
Mr Wallingford is project manager at Maono Initiative, an innovative microfinance organisation working in Nairobi’s informal settlements. (email@example.com).