Kenya among the top 20 at most risk of failure

Sunday August 16 2009

By RASNA WARAH:

OF LATE, POLITICIANS have taken to blaming the failed rains for all our woes.

The current food, water and power shortages are blamed on poor rainfall and subsequent declining agricultural yields and reduced water levels in dams and reservoirs.

No one is asking why it is that nearly half a century after independence, the country is still relying solely on rain to feed itself, or why, while the rest of the world has moved on to other sources, we are still relying on hydroelectricity.

But as anyone who has studied the history of famine or drought in the last century will tell you, food, water and power insecurity are almost always related to poor governance and bad planning.

Governments that fail to plan for impending crises, or which fail to use resources, technology and innovation to avert crises generally fall into the “failed state” category.

And that is why this year, Kenya was ranked as the 14th most failed state in the world by the Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine.

The 2009 Failed State Index was produced through a collaboration between the Fund for Peace, an independent research organisation, and Foreign Policy magazine.

The index is based on a set of indicators, including demographic pressures, number of refugees and internally displaced persons, human flight, group grievances, uneven development, economic decline and delegitimization of the state.

The index is compiled using more than 30,000 publicly available resources, and ranks 177 countries in order from the most to the least at risk of failure.

Kenya falls in the top 20 league of countries that are most at risk of failure. Other countries in this category include Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Guinea, Pakistan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Haiti.

A comparison of the indicators shows that Kenya is performing poorly in almost all the indicators, and in some cases, it is performing even worse than the most risky countries in the index.

For instance, economically, it is performing worse than Sudan and Pakistan. What’s worse, strife-torn Burundi, which ranks 24th on the index, has fewer problems with human flight and group grievances than does Kenya.

Niger, among the poorest countries in the world, and which ranks 23rd on the index, is performing better than Kenya on almost all the indicators, including human flight, refugees/IDPs, and delegitimisation of the state.

THE AUTHORS OF THE INDEX WARN that the global recession could make things worse for failed or failing states, and that there is a real danger that many states could slip all at once into the ranks of the failing.

However, they do point out that each failed state is failing in its own way. For instance, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are failing because “their governments are chronically weak or non-existent”, while Zimbabwe and Burma are failing because “their governments are strong enough to choke the life out of their societies”.

They also note that in some countries technical failures can have greater negative consequences than in other countries.

A failed Kenya, for instance, could trigger economic decline and instability in the whole of the East Africa region.

A failed state status combined with poor infrastructure, excessive violence and criminality and lack of basic services can create a situation where even those who want to help – or harm – the country, find it impossible to do so.

For instance, a recent report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Centre revealed that Osama bin Laden found it impossible to operate in Somalia because it lacked the basic infrastructure needed to run a terrorist outfit. In other words, “Somalia was too failed even for Al Qaeda”.

And no, failed rains have nothing to do with the mess Somalia – or Kenya – is in. The problem there, as here, is bad governance, greed and poor planning.

Period. Kenya may be a failing state, but I don’t know of many places where thieves have the audacity to apologise to their victims and wish them a good night.

When my husband’s mobile phone was stolen recently, I sent an sms to his number in the hope that the thief would return the phone – for a fee, of course.

Can you believe, he called back (using the stolen phone), saying that he was too far away and so could not meet me, and then sent me the following sms message: “Pole sana 4al this, actually we dnt do this things cz we are criminals bt becoze we dnt hv smethings else 2 do…tel ur husband 2 kip it cool, sorry 4 this hope ul 4give me gd nyt.”

Ms Warah is an editor with the UN. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.

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