Zimbabwe 'wins' 6th place on 'Failed States Index'

Jun 28, 2011

Over the last several years Zimbabweans have wearily got used to their country being considered a sort of poster child for how a country should not be run. There is not shortage of indices of how Zimbabwe has precipitously fallen by many social and economic measures. Even as things have slowly begun to turn around , there comes another ranking showing how tough it will be for Zimbabwe to change its image, in addition to its reality.

The Fund for Peace issues an annual Failed States Index, a ranking of what it determines to be the world's most dysfunctional countries by a number of measures it attempts to quantify. The American organisation describes itself as "an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit research and educational organization that works to prevent violent conflict and promote sustainable security," which can mean anything.

According to the FFP's criteria, Zimbabwe is the 6th 'most failed state' in the world in 2011. In 2010 it was 4th, 2nd in 2009 and 3rd in 2008. In all these years Somalia was ranked the most failed state, with Sudan also always near the 'top.' Mauritius is judged the least failed state in Africa.

The Fund for Peace says its index 'focuses on the indicators of risk and is based on thousands of articles and reports that are processed by our CAST Software from electronically available sources.'

A question that immediately comes to mind is how the fact that there was a disproportionate amount written about Zimbabwe than about many others whose 'issues' aroused less interest and emotion is weighted, considering that Zimbabwe is ranked as more 'failed' than many countries in open, all out war.

Among the named variables going into the calculation of the index are levels of human flight, economic decline, and the state of human rights. Certainly Zimbabwe has objectively done poorly in all these areas.  

Previous Zimbabwean criticism of the country's poor ranking has, among other things, focused on the provenance of the ranking organisation and whether it is an extension of the US government, implying that the ranking could be part of that government's general hostility to the Mugabe government.     

Some will nitpick issues like the definition of a variable like 'human rights,' for example. Zimbabwe has a repressive government, but what ideological framework is used to measure the level of human rights in Zimbabwe compared to Afghanistan or Iraq, where thousands of people are annually killed by the bombs of foreign occupation forces? How do you compare the political atmosphere of fear in Zimbabwe with the actual reality of a high likelihood of being bombed to dust in these other countries? How do the human rights in Zimbabwe compare to those in a country like Saudi Arabia, where opposition parties do not exist and women have been arrested and lashed for the unforgivable 'sin/crime' of driving a car?!

Obviously there is no objectively iron-clad way to measure overall conditions in one country against those in another, something that countries conveniently ignore when they feature positively in one ranking or another and crow about it. All such rankings must be taken with a bit of salt.

But defensiveness over the poor ranking is not helpful. Zimbabwe's decline is very real, whether or not it is worse or better than any other country's. Whatever the shortfalls of this particular ranking, one thing that it helps to emphasise and remind is how poor is Zimbabwe's image in much of the world, regardless of how Zimbabweans explain the cause of their situation and how they evaluate the improvements that have begun to take place in selected areas.

The Zimbabwe Review


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