what is a failed state?

After reading the question of the title, the first country that comes to mind is Somalia and a slew of African countries. Somalia always seems to be at the top of the list and always seems to fit the necessary criteria of a failed state no matter what happens. On returning from Ghana I was talking with my uncle about Africa and was very surprised about his views and ideas, especially when came to the subject of conflict. He wondered whether it would have made a difference if there had been no colonizers? Wouldn’t Africans still be fighting each other regardless of the colonial ‘divide and conquer’ strategy? Could it have been worse if the colonizers never ‘intervened?’

The failed states index states:

“For the second year in a row, Sudan tops the rankings as the state most at risk of failure. The primary cause of its instability, violence in the country’s western region of Darfur, is as well known as it is tragic. At least 200,000 people—and perhaps as many as 400,000—have been killed in the past four years by janjaweed militias armed by the government, and 2 to 3 million people have fled their torched villages for squalid camps as the violence has spilled into the Central African Republic and Chad. These countries were hardly pictures of stability prior to the influx of refugees and rebels across their borders; the Central African Republic plays host to a modern-day slave trade, and rebels attacked Chad’s capital in April 2006 in a failed coup attempt. But the spillover effects from Sudan have a great deal to do with the countries’ tumble in the rankings, demonstrating that the dangers of failing states often bleed across borders. That is especially worrying for a few select regions. This year, eight of the world’s 10 most vulnerable states are in sub-Saharan Africa, up from six last year and seven in 2005.”

Why is it that African countries grace the top of the list? This brings me back to my uncles pondering and the new myth of Africa. “Would Africans still be killing one another if European powers hadn’t ‘intervened’?” This is a difficult history to predict. From what I know of societies, kingdoms, and conflict in Africa I can venture to guess that the current political and conflict-related situations would not be worse. Africa consisted of a number of kingdoms and great societies. In the top failed state of Somalia there were consecutive kingdoms, sultanates, and rulers who conducted international trade with Asia and Europe. As in any region with multiple rulers and regions there was conflict over territory and resources. This was the same in Africa. Enter colonialism. Division of the territories of great kingdoms and peoples. Conquering of lands and resources as conflicts arose to fight the influences of colonialism, battle for resources taken away by colonialism, and heightened awareness of differences between ethnic groups and traditional territory. Africans were killing one another not because that was “what they did,” but because they were exploited, cheated, and decieved. Failed States may never have taken hold on the African continent if it hadn’t been for the wonderful legacy that colonial powers created and left behind.

It is important to note that Failed states are not restricted to sub-Saharan Africa as a few of the giants: China and Russia join with a group of Middle Eastern and former Soviet-block countries. The important thing to note is that the countries listed on the ‘Failed States Index’ have not yet failed.

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