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.

ka-boom-ratta-tatta. . . airstrikes in somalia

Now you have a small snapshot of the truth. The US has reportedly carried out two airstrikes in Somalia and has conducted raids on al-Qaeda targets tied to the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Pentagon has denied that any of this is happening, however witnesses have seen firsthand and the denials by the Somalian and US government make these events seem undeniably true. The Somalian President, Abdullahi Yusuf, told journalists that the US, “has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” The targets were Islamists driven to the wedge between the sea, patrolled by the US Navy and the Kenyan border, which is heavily guarded. The airstrikes were followed by gunships attacking the al-Qaeda targets. This is the first US military offensive in an African country since the 1993 Somalia operation. See the complete NPR article and report from witnesses in Mogadishu here. To try and claim that the US has no hand in this operation or that it never happened is obsurd. There has been an obvious build-up in the region (ie: new Africa Command, live military exercises in Cape Verde and neighbors, tracking Somalian ‘terrorists’). I had written a post last year about the threat of Chinese economic attack to gain natural resources, but now I am even more worried for the US military’s involvement in the name of fighting terror. What will the US do to Africa? Hasn’t the West already done enough military ill from the past? Where is our Africa policy headed now? Unilateralism again?

Update: The Pentagon has claimed the attack, but will not release their success. Somali elders say 19 were killed. White House Spokesman, Tony Snow: “This administration continues to go after al-Qaeda,” he said. “We are interested in going after those who have perpetrated acts of violence against Americans, including bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”This is after hte US said it would send only money, no troops or military to help stabilize the Somalian conflict. Check out the BBC Article.

Update 09.10.07: Somali hatred of the US has been rekindled by the recent airstrikes and it is reported that 27 civilians were killed, no al-Qaeda were among the dead. It will be very interesting to see what direction the US government and military takes on African conflicts in the name of fighting terrorism.

Update 09.11.07: Supposedly the US has not claimed the attack. However residents of the two areas attacked saw US gunships involved.

africa’s long to-do list?

In a recent article posted on the BBC By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, a National Public Radio reporter in Accra, the issues of Africa and challenges to face in the new year are highlighted. However I would say that it is nothing new or exciting to a person who follows the news of Africa daily. The article notes the conflicts across the continent from Niger Delta, to Somalia, to Darfur, to Northern Uganda. Quist-Arcton notes the coming elections in many countries and the worries of violence at the polls. The reporter does well to examine the challenges in the future and the causes of problems in the past. However, this African reporter seems to have very little hope for the new year, except for a few lines near the end hope is finally noted – the country of Ghana turns 50 and the 2010 South African World Cup is on its way. Is that the only hope for the continent? I think not. I hope that I have noted some positives for Africa in 2007. I do not wish to hide the realities and so the positives are accompanied with the negatives, but there is always hope. Check them out here:

finally, something good happens in that country

something new for the new year

interesting things to note in the new year for africa

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

interesting things to note in the new year for africa

The $100 laptop computer project was launched this year. The goal is to put computers in the hands of people in the ‘developing’ world. The inventor, Nicholas Negroponte, says, “I’m 62 years old. I’ve seen massive changes in people’s lives through technology over the years.” In the next two weeks three more African countries are expected to sign on to the plan. The laptop has built in wireless capabilities. Maybe Mr. Negroponte can partner with American Millionaire, Greg Wyler, who is working to make Africa wireless starting with Rwanda. (post) Many note, as I do as well, that when you are starving and hungry, striken by disease, and have no clean water – what good is the internet or a laptop. I am not one to say that the internet does not hold great educational possibilities, but how many people will die before even accessing the webpage on wikipedia about their own country?

Keeping a promise to Nelson Mandela, Oprah has opened her ‘Leadership’ Academy for girls in South Africa. Girls are selected based on their potential from families with a monthly income less than $700. With a huge showing from Western celebrities I wonder if this initiative will be copied. The access to education in South Africa is the best of any African country being nearly universal, why is there a need for what some call an ‘elitist’ academy that cost over $40 million to build? A very good question as still thousands of African children do not even have books, pens, paper, classrooms, teachers, healthcare or security to become educated. “We have to change the way they think,” she said. Time out – we need to change the way we think? With a beauty salon shoving American materialist values at these 152 South African girls how can she believe that their minds are the ones needing change. We may need to help their minds develop with access to good education, but we do not need to change them. Yet another example of the Western mindset. Oprah is to open a school for 1000 boys later this month. I hope Oprah will begin to focus on reaching the unreached people in her next African venture.

Effective as of the new year, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, a Ghanian native, is no longer the head man for the UN. Annan served two terms as Secretary General and many say he quietly and effectively brought Africa to the forefront. As an African he worked to raise issues in Africa without being too baised to one side (not giving too much to African leaders and not sucking up to the West). His tenure saw the creation of the Human Rights Council to take over human rights monitoring, the US’s diplomatically unilateral approach to the Iraq War, and the current test of Darfur, Sudan for the UN’s new powers to act, along with many reforms and calls for reform of the UN system. His tenure was not without scandal or missed opportunities, but I am sure no one during his term would have faced any different challenges. With Annan now gone I wonder if the UN will remain as focused on the Darfur genocide and other African and ‘developing’ world issues, such as the Millennium Development Goals. However, with hope, the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has set the conflict in Darfur as a priority of his term. Kofi Annan will be greatly missed, and not missed by some, but I still feel he has much greatness to offer Africa.

Lastly, Somalia – the only true failed state? (Failed states are based on Western ideas and ideals, but Somalia seems trapped in conflict) What will come of the country as US military trained Ethiopian government forces supporting the ‘Somalian Government’ take control from the Islamic leaders? How will the peace be kept and how many refugees will flood surrounding countries? How will aid agencies and the UN respond? Be sure to read your news and from multiple sources to get the full view, which sadly is not possibly unless you are actually in Somalia, but at least be knowledgable. Here is the latest BBC article.