Kenya has its failures


The phrase Kenya is not a failed state has gained even more prominence since the ICC Prosecutor issued a controversial lightning rod in the form of six names of individuals he deems as bearing the greatest responsibility for the post-election violence.

And of course Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo, among others, has always maintained this as true since he began advocating for a local judicial mechanism.

It turns out that Kenya actually is a failed state, at least as far as the venerable Failed States Index (FSI) report of 2010 is concerned, which accords Kenya the alert level red code for state failure.

So what is a failed state, really?

The most common core attribute of state failure, notes the report, is a state government’s loss of its monopoly on the legitimate use of force and territorial control.  Beyond this simplified understanding of failed states, the Index, a product of think tank the Fund for Peace and magazine Foreign Policy since 2005, uses conflict assessment software to gauge political, social and economic indicators to serve as an early warning mechanism of states at risk of internal conflict and state collapse.

On the face of it, the thought of Kenya being on the verge of collapse is absurd. Somalia might be, but Kenya is absolutely not, right?

Well, perhaps a closer probe of these indicators may reveal otherwise.

The social indicators include: increasing demographic constraints, a massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons – resulting in humanitarian crises, legacy of divergent ethnic groups seeking vengeance for grievances or group paranoia and chronic and sustained human fighting.

The economic criteria assessed cover uneven economic development along group lines and sharp and/or severe economic decline. Extensive corruption, absence of transparency within state structures, progressive deterioration of public services, suspension or arbitrary application of rule of law and widespread human rights abuses, impunity within the security sector, development of factionalised elites, foreign military and paramilitary intervention as well as donor aid dependency constitute the political indicators.

The ranking of the states is based on total scores of 12 indicators, and for each indicator the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 signifying the lowest intensity (most stable) and 10 being the highest intensity (least stable). The total score is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0 to 120. Kenya is ranked 13th, with a score of 100.7 for 2010.

It is no surprise that Somalia is ranked first, while the likes of DR Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Guinea and Chad make up the rest of the top 10 list.

These are states that have habitually faced severe challenges in maintaining full sovereign authority over their territory, continuing to hold hostage the daily disaster pages for reasons ranging from civil war, ethnic clashes, economic catastrophes instigating civil unrest to the existence of warlords controlling parts of the affected states.

However, further examination of the list published for this year paints a grim picture of the global state stability, showing that 37 states out of the total 177 investigated, are so fragile as to be listed within the ominous red coloured alert level. Another 91 are viewed as being in danger and are aptly labelled with the warning orange colour.

This perhaps signifies the extent of the world’s fragility, beating home the point that conflicts are merely waiting to happen in different parts of the globe, in places that may perhaps seem even unlikely. The Fund’s assessment in 2006 and 2005 was that Kenya generally fell into the warning orange category, and obviously switched to red alert once chaos rocked the East African state. One can credit the Index for an apt prediction. Moreover, this assessment is particularly ominous because it obviously cannot account for future, unpredictable events that would unquestionably tip the scales.

So while Kenya may be deemed a failed state, it appears that she is in good company as majority of countries in the world are apparently either failed states or are on the verge of failing. And of course there are many who question the reliability of the FSI, as even the most basic question of what constitutes state failure is still a subject of debate among policy wonks. Generally, however, there is some agreement on at least the most extreme situations like in Somalia, Afghanistan among others.

The Global Peace Index and State Fragility Index, for instance, still similarly view Kenya as a fragile state.

The more daunting question is whether the world can withstand such a magnitude of weakened states becoming a reality: the answer, from past experience and present realities, is that the global community is woefully incapable and ill-prepared.

Okwara is a former policy Intern for A. Jäätteenmäki (Ex-Prime Minister, Finland).

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