Thursday, 5 July 2012

Africa’s “Berlin-states” of dysfunction

When last in March 2010 I reviewed the Washington-based Fund for Peace’s annual research publication, “The Failed States Index”
(, the fund concluded that
11 out of the “worst 20 states” in the world (in 2009) were located in Africa. I had shown that Nigeria, one of the eleven, had indeed been a failed state since 1945. For the outcome of the FfP’s current, 2011 research, published recently, the highlights for Africa are as follows: 14 out of the “worst 20 states”; 20 out of the “worst 30 states”; 28 (just above one-half of all the continent’s so-called sovereign states) of the “worst 53 states”. It is not inconceivable, at this rate, that by the time students finishing high school this year graduate from colleges and universities and begin to apply for research positions at the fund, “53 out of the worst 53 states” in the world could be in Africa.

African countries, unsurprisingly, fare most poorly at each and across the ten crucial variables at the centre of the fund’s research, but particularly in the following, with the inescapable crushing consequences on the lives and well-being of the peoples:

1. legitimacy of the state

2. rise of fractionalised elite

3. chronic and sustained human rights violation

4. uneven economic development

5. poorly, sharp and severe economic decline

6. massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons

Yet, according to trade figures and associated data readily obtainable, these principalities of seeming dysfunction have performed their utmost, year in, year out, in that key variable for which their creators established them in the first place – curiously, in no way part of the FfP research: redoubts for export services of designated mineralogical/agricultural products to the European World/overseas. There are no indications, whatsoever, that any of these countries has found it difficult to fulfil its principal obligations on this accord – not the genocidal and kakistocratic Nigeria, no. 14 on the failed index, not the Democratic Republic of the Congo (no. 4), not the Sudan (no. 3), not even Chad, the no. 2 worst state. This is the context that that seemingly contradictory aphorism, “Africa works”, becomes hugely intelligible. In effect, the raison d’être of the “state” in Africa is not really to serve its people(s); it is, on the contrary, to respond, unfailingly, to the objective needs of its creators overseas.

It would therefore be surprising if the Fund for Peace did not soon have to investigate this “missing link” component in its annual study.


  1. Very apt observation, Dr. Ekwe-Ekwe.
    It is similar to Genocide Watch's skepticism about use of data from the Political Instability Task Force as a risk predictor for genocide or politicide. (It used to be called the Failed States Task Force.) Contrary to that group's assumptions, we believe that likelihood of genocide is highest in states that are too powerful -- that function too well without constitutional limits. In other words the likelihood of genocide or politicide is greatest among "successful" or "stable" states. Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Khmer Rouge Cambodia are cases in point. Genocide results not from state "failure" but as Rudy Rummel often observed, from state success and excessive state power. In Africa this excessive power is often supported by arms and money from countries that want to extract Africa's mineral abundance. Chinese and Russian support for Sudan is only the latest example. US,UK, Belgian, and French support for Mobutu's Zaire and Nigeria during the Biafran War are other examples of Western support for dictatorships that cater to extractive states willing to commit genocide against their own people.
    Greg Stanton
    Genocide Watch

  2. Many thanks, Professor Stanton, for these refreshingly clear and honest insights. With best wishes, Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe