As I have discussed in a previous post, the “Failed States Index” is an extremely influential, if flawed, annual survey. Many Africans and those concerned about persistent “Afro-pessimism” believe that the Fund for Peace / Foreign Policy index unfairly paints Africa in a negative light. Even a quick look at the FSI summary map gives the impression that most African states are failed or teetering on the brink of collapse.
Long before the advent of the Failed States Index (the first edition was released in 2005), Afro-pessimism clouded the minds of Africans and non-Africans alike. Our main concern here is the attitudes and perceptions of those outside the continent. As NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and so many other (Western) discussions of Africa make clear, unduly negative stereotypes (and racist attitudes) toward Africa persist. Persistent discussion of African “tribes,” with all the backward connotations of that term, remain widespread in Western news media accounts. And sadly, American news organizations – to the extent that they provide much coverage of African stories – tend toward stories of war, coups, famine, and disaster.
That said, why do we need a blog entitled “Failed States and Geopolitics,” which devotes significant coverage to Africa? Some might argue that blogs like this one are part of the problem. From this perspective, it is better to mostly ignore troubled African states, in order to best promote Afro-optimism. Intellectual honesty – and a pursuit of objectivity conducted in good faith – requires that we strive for an appropriate sense of balance. A guiding principle should be a well-known West Africa adage: “no condition is permanent.” Africa’s failed states need not remain basket cases.
If one looks beyond the sensationalism of the Failed States Index, it is easier to see that many African states and sub-regions are not in chronic crisis. Under-reported success stories include those of Botswana, Mozambique, Ghana, and Senegal. Even the former basket case Angola is showing real signs of progress, despite the overwhelming political dominance of Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ MPLA party.
I sincerely hope that readers of this blog never have the feeling that I am just another Afro-pessimist. To shine a spotlight on state failure in Africa is to simply recognize that the continent remains ground zero in the struggle to deal with negative colonial legacies, dysfunctional political institutions, and the multi-faceted crises facilitated by state failure. And the failure of some of Africa’s states is partly the result of flawed international relationships of foreign aid and statehood recognition. State failure in Africa – as elsewhere – is not simply the result of local mistakes. The United Nations – that is, the current member states of the UN – owe better to the residents of failed states. The world community needs to again emphasize the responsibilities of statehood and recognize that there are (rare) times when state death is the best option.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.