Special Report

2009 Failed States Index – Blame Game

Blame Game Why do states fail, and who’s helping out? BY ELIZABETH DICKINSON Few states fail by chance. Accidents of geography and history play a certain part, but so do corruption and mismanagement. Why, for instance, has Zimbabwe’s annual gdp growth plummeted from 14 percent to at least negative 5 percent during Robert Mugabe’s nearly ...


Blame Game

Why do states fail, and who’s helping out?


Few states fail by chance. Accidents of geography and history play a certain part, but so do corruption and mismanagement. Why, for instance, has Zimbabwe’s annual gdp growth plummeted from 14 percent to at least negative 5 percent during Robert Mugabe’s nearly three decades of rule? Is it really a coincidence that immunization rates in Equatorial Guinea fell 10 points over the last 30 years as the country became a petrostate? How come the percentage of paved roads in Yemen and North Korea is still in the single digits?

Asked to explain their governments’ failings, representatives of many of the world’s most fragile states often passed the buck, if they responded at all. After countless faxes, phone calls, meetings, unanswered requests, and stood-up meetings, nearly all the worst-performing states hotly contested their scores (“Bangladesh is the most undervalued stock in town,” said the country’s ambassador to the United States, M. Humayun Kabir), and many blamed external sources—from the media to neighboring countries—for their troubles.

“Our country is a victim of much biased propaganda and biased pressures from outside,” said Fatahelrahman Ali Mohamed, a top official at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. Representing the views of Sudan’s neighbor, Chad, Ambassador to the United States Mahamoud Adam Bechir said, “It is not strange to be placed on this list. Sudan is sinking and it wants to drag us down with it.” Haitian Ambassador to the United States Raymond Joseph blamed unfair expectations: “Because we focus so much on the macroeconomic aspect just to meet international standards, not much has been done for the average citizen.”

Only Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Tendai Biti, acknowledged his country’s failure and the challenges ahead. “We’re basically coming from a situation of a failed state, where for 15 consistent years we have had negative declines in gdp,” he said in a recent speech.

There is, however, something to the idea that foreign meddling contributes to state failure. A fresh influx of weapons, for instance, is one of the surest ways a conflict can reach new levels of violent intensity. As international negotiators flooded Kenya in early 2008, hoping to end post-election violence, 40,000 Kalashnikov rifles were reportedly entering the country via Ukraine in a legal transaction. Last year, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Yemen also purchased weapons from willing suppliers in China, Ukraine, Italy, and Belgium, despite strapped government budgets and pressing humanitarian concerns. China and Russia, which together represent 27 percent of the global conventional weapons market, made 40 percent of the major arms sales to the 60 worst-performing states in the index, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Weapons designed in the West and licensed to manufacturers in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, and China are a proliferating source of small arms worldwide. The numbers are already staggering, but they might well be an underestimate, experts say, because they include only officially recorded transactions. And weapons dealers are, of course, just some of failed states’ many enablers. There’s much more blame to go around.

Under the Influence

For some failing states, the big prize is clout in Washington, where many governments hire elite lobbying firms on big-dollar contracts to get their message across. Over the last two years, Nigeria’s Bayelsa state has employed the Carmen Group to lobby for U.S. partnership opportunities; Chad was advised by Patton Boggs on how to improve its relations with the U.S. executive branch; both Ivory Coast and Ethiopia paid DLA Piper for legal advice; and Pakistan contacted congressional staffers with the help of Cassidy and Associates. Pakistani Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari lobbied through Locke Lord Strategies for an inter-national investigation into the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto. And spending nearly $10 million, Iraq employed various lobbyists to help navigate the corridors of Capitol Hill, influence media coverage, and arrange favorable long-term strategic relations with the United States.

In Their Own Words

Morgan Tsvangirai
Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

On his Movement for Democratic Change coming into the government: “It is obvious the level of economic degeneration that just hit us in the face when we went into government. There was a sense of euphoria, which was very short-lived because the decision to go in [to government] was [because] we could not be authors of chaos. …If there was chaos in the country, the outcome would be unpredictable; it would engulf us all.”

On working with President Robert Mugabe: “There are sensitivities and emotions that need to be navigated and negotiated [in a transitional government]. It’s frustratingly slow, in our assessment, that we have gone this far without at least indicating how the outstanding issues will be resolved … [but] I am prepared to work with President Robert Mugabe—not because he’s right but because of the national interest.”

On international help: “My beef with all the international community and diplomats is that, look, those of us who are pushing the democratic reform agenda should be supported so that we can sustain this experiment.”

Samir Sumaida’ie
Ambassador of Iraq to the United States

“Iraq is a traumatized country. It has come out of 3½ decades of mass murder, mass graves, use of chemical weapons on the population—total oppression. It has come out of that hell. It’s transitioning to a situation where there is real freedom. If we lose this context and take a snapshot at any moment, the snapshot is going to look very bad, and maybe that is what we have [in the Failed States Index].”

Mahamoud Adam Bechir
Ambassador of Chad to the United States

“We have done everything right, played by the rules, and still we are considered like Sudan. … This is very offensive. We are not like Sudan. The situation in Chad is a product of the conflict in Darfur.”

Fatahelrahman Ali Mohamed
Minister at the Embassy of Sudan in Washington

“[These reports of] the government, the military, bombarding civilians … it is a war there [in Darfur]! [There are] many rebel movements and even many clashes between the government and rebels. So what [can we expect] the result will be if there is a war? Some from the government will be affected, some of the rebels will be affected, and some of the civilians will be affected.”


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