Measuring Corruption (in Failed States)

Earlier this month, the respected NGO Transparency International released its annual survey of public sector corruption around the world. The Perceptions of Corruption Index is the most influential effort to assess the relative cleanness of governance throughout the world.

First, here are a few highlights from the 2012 survey, which assigns a score of 0 to 100 to each state, with 0 representing a highly corrupt public sector and 100 representing an extremely clean public sector.

Anti-corruption poster in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Photo credit: Raymond June (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption poster in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Photo credit: Raymond June (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

The cleanest clusters and states are: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada. Others scoring fairly well are Chile, Uruguay, Japan, the United States, and a few other European countries.

When examined by world region, Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Russia, Ukraine and the “-stans” – fare the worst for public corruption. Ninety-five percent of these countries score below 50 points out of 100. (For comparison, 70 percent of the world’s states also score below 50.) Sub-Saharan Africa has the next worst scores overall, with 90 percent of the region’s states scoring below 50 points.  The Middle East and North Africa ranks as the third most corrupt region in the world. And the Americas and Asia Pacific are slightly below the world mark, with 66 percent and 68 percent, respectively, of countries scoring below 50 points.

Figures for the world’s key failed states are fairly predictable. The ten lowest ranking countries – meaning those where bribery, rent-seeking behavior, and corruption are entrenched – include the following failed states: Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan. Other critically weak and failed states score very poorly on the survey, including: Chad, the DRC, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, and Pakistan.

But how do we know that these scores are valid? Transparency International freely acknowledges that they are assessing perceptions of corruption, and not absolute levels of public sector impropriety. Just a cursory look at the summary index map reveals an  old pattern, with Western countries judged as less corrupt and non-Western states labeled more corrupt. Perhaps the old process of Orientalism is at play in this influential global assessment.

A more careful look at the numbers, though, reveals some subtle differences that matter. In Africa, Botswana has a score that is identical to Spain’s and a bit better than Portugal’s. Ghana’s mediocre score is meaningfully better than those of Italy and Greece. Chile and Uruguay have similar scores to that for the United States.

What are your thoughts about this survey? Do you give much credibility to these scores and rankings?

Mexico’s Geopolitical Resurgence

For many in the United States and elsewhere, Mexico is most closely associated with poverty, illegal immigration, and drug violence. True, those are all ongoing realities for Latin America’s second giant. Foreign investors, though, are mostly focusing on one word, opportunity.

The Economist magazine recently published a special report on Mexico, to coincide with the presidential inauguration of PRI leader Enrique Pena Nieto on December 1st. The report is truly eye-opening for those who only see America’s southern neighbor as a violence-wracked state on the verge of state failure. In fact, Mexico is moving in a positive direction, propelled by recent strong economic growth and a political system that is maturing.

Skyline of Mexico City

Skyline of Mexico City. Photo credit: rutlo, via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

As Shannon O’Niel wrote in 2009 in Foreign Affairs, the surge in drug violence during the presidency of Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) was a sign of better governance in Mexico. For too long, the one-party system of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) colluded with the drug cartels. When new federal leadership pushed back against this corruption, the cartels lashed out at the central government. Fortunately, drug-related violence has begun to abate somewhat. The bigger political story, though, is the consolidation of democracy in Mexico, which is further confirmed by the PRI’s return to power.

Though Mexico has registered under-appreciated gains in the political sphere, the country’s impressive economic resurgence seems to have particularly impressive forward momentum. Here the key development is a revitalization of Mexican manufacturing. After some struggles in the decade of the 2000s, the newest OECD member in the NAFTA region is returning impressive industrial growth. Here are a few of the key factors:

  • Free trade deals with 44 other states, which is the largest total for any country in the world.
  • Mexico’s proximity to the United States market, which affords quick and low-cost access to American consumers.
  • An average manufacturing wage rate ($2.10 per hour in 2011) that is now comparable to China’s rate ($1.60 per hour). (In 2000, these rates were $1.50 per hour in Mexico and $0.30 per hour in East Asia’s biggest tiger. Sources: HSBC, The Economist.)
  • The relative dependability and productivity of Mexican workers.
  • Higher energy prices, which reinforce Mexico’s position relative to Asia’s emerging markets, due to higher transportation costs from Asia to North America.

Mexico’s geopolitical resurgence is supported by other economic strengths. International tourism arrivals have remained strong, despite the drug violence. The country is still a significant energy producer. And Mexico’s agricultural sector continues to show signs of dynamism.

Mexico is rising. Arguably the clearest indication of this is the confidence that international investors are placing in the country. World leaders like Siemens, LG, Nissan, and Ford are voting with their dollars, euros, and yen. The Pentagon’s 2009 warning about Mexico becoming a failed state is not coming true.

The Relevance of U.S. State Department Travel Warnings

The U.S. Department of State has active “travel warnings” for 32 of the world’s 193 states, or just over 15 percent of the world’s countries. The State Department strongly urges Americans to avoid all non-essential travel – to selected areas or whole countries – for those states with an active warning. Below is the list of warning states, grouped by regions of the world. Some have been on the list for a decade or more.

Latin America (3 states):  Haiti, Colombia, Mexico

Sub-Saharan Africa (16 states):  Republic of South Sudan, Guinea, Sudan, Mali,  Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Chad

Middle East and North Africa (12 states and territories):  Syria, Libya, Israel, The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan

Asia, other (2 states):  Philippines, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea)

For readers of this blog, there are many familiar names: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Haiti. It is worth noting here that the State Department may issue a travel warning based on the limitations on U.S. diplomats and consular staff to offer assistance in particular countries (e.g. Iran, North Korea). Even with this qualification, the vast majority of these states either have active armed conflicts or are marked by significant state weakness or state failure.

How should we evaluate these travel warnings? Some largely disregard these travel warnings as irrelevant propaganda. Governments of countries with warnings often loudly protest this designation. Kenya, for example, has a substantial tourism sector that is reliant on foreigners, and official travel warnings are obviously not helpful to that sector. So, while the U.S. State Department warnings can tend toward alarmism, it is important to recall the main reason why these bulletins are issued. Contrary to what many cynics believe, these travel statements are primarily posted to keep Americans (and other foreigners) safe abroad. In the pursuit of this goal, the individual assessments do offer a fairly high degree of objectivity. As such, these periodically updated bulletins do provide relevant information on the world’s most troubled lands.

Below is a small sampling of excerpts from current travel warnings.

Nigeria:

Violent crime remains a problem throughout the country and is perpetrated by both individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms. ….. Travel by foreigners to areas considered by the Nigerian government to be conflict areas should not occur without prior consultation and coordination with local security authorities. The Nigerian government may view such travel as inappropriate and potentially illegal, and it may detain violators. ….. Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens, Nigerians, and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials.

Philippines:

U.S. citizens should defer non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago, due to the high threat of kidnapping of international travelers and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there. ….. Security and safety conditions in the urban centers of Davao City, General Santos City, and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao are generally more controlled. Nevertheless, official U.S. Government visitors and Embassy employees must receive special authorization from the Embassy to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, including these urban centers.

Haiti:

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Haiti about the security situation in Haiti. This replaces the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2011, to update information regarding the crime level, the prevalence of cholera, lack of adequate infrastructure – particularly in medical facilities – seasonal severe inclement weather, and limited police protection. The United Nations’ Stabilization Force for Haiti (MINUSTAH) remains in Haiti. ….. Haiti’s infrastructure remains in poor condition and unable to support normal activity, much less crisis situations. Medical facilities, including ambulance services, are particularly weak. Some U.S. citizens injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to find necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States.

*** 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.