By Joe de Tuombuk*
July 16, 2013 - In its 2013 failed state index (FSI) that was recently released, the Washington, D.C. based organization called Fund for Peace (FFP) ranked countries considered failed states. Of the top 20 countries on this highly speculative ranking, 15 countries were from the continent of Africa. The top five were all from Africa. South Sudan ranks fourth behind Sudan. The 2013 ranking was the first time that South Sudan was formally ranked on the list and it made quite a leap. South Sudan placed fourth in 2012 but it was not ‘ranked’ for reasons that only the FFP researchers would explain. The ranking takes into consideration a number of indicators ranging from “primary social, economic, and political indicators” (FFP). The methodology and how the FFP researchers arrived at their figures is something most countries in Africa would be interested in learning more. Sudan has been in the top five for the last eight years. For many, the Sudan case is quite understandable. However, many in the South Sudan would protest our debut rank.
The FFP looked at twelve indicators. It utilizes Conflict Assessment Software Tool (CAST) software to “analyze millions of documents every year” (http://ffp.statesindex.org/methodology) and arrive at its failed states index (FSI) ranking. The indicators shown on its web site range from mounting demographic pressures; massive movement of refugees and internally displaced persons; vengeance-seeking groups; chronic or sustained human flight; uneven economic development; poverty, sharp, or severe economic decline; legitimacy of the state; progressive deterioration of public services; violation of human rights and rule of law; security apparatus; rise of factionalized elite; and intervention of external actors (FFP). Each of these indicators is awarded ten points at the really bad end of the spectrum. The lower the total score, the less the severity of FSI ranking. For instance, Somalia at the #1 has a score of 114 out of 120 while Finland (last) has only 18 out of 120.
From the look of the methodology involved, one could be easily convinced that South Sudan has indeed earned its infamous spot on the top five of FSI. However, the FSI methodology is susceptible to the factors that are not easy for a software to fully grasp. It is not surprising that South Sudan is ranked behind Sudan on the FSI. If the CAST software only looks that the documents related to Sudan, there is a fair amount of information that exclusively applies to Sudan but indirectly affects South Sudan. For example, there is no massive movement of refugees or IDPs in South Sudan on the same scale as in Sudan. In fact, South Sudan is the recipient of the large number of refugees from Sudan. There has been some displacement in Jonglei as a result of insurgency and inter-communal fighting but not on the scale witnessed in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur in Sudan. If the CAST software looks at a news article or report related to internal displacement and refugees in neighboring Sudan, it would probably find South Sudan in that report. It would therefore take that into consideration in assigning a rating for the South Sudan. In other words, Sudan indicators related to what is happening in Sudan could be indirectly applied to South Sudan.
There are a number of indicators where the rating assigned to South Sudan does not reflect the realities on the ground. We were in primary school, we tended to think 10 out of 10 is great; in the case of FSI rating, it is really bad. In terms of mounting demographic pressures where South Sudan earned a rating of 8.9 out of 10, the only demographic pressure is the influx of refugees from the neighboring Sudan. South Sudan has an estimated population of 8-10 million people. Considering its size, it is probably one of the least populated countries in Africa. Another area where South Sudan is unfairly rated is the legitimacy of the state. South Sudan received 9.1 out of possible 10. This rating is difficult to interpret because there a number of things that have not been considered. One is that South Sudan is ruled by a party that won an election in a landslide. That is as legitimate as you can get in a democracy. That said, there are a number militia groups opposed to the current government but that does not warrant a rating of 9.1. The groups opposed to the government in Juba are sponsored by the government in Khartoum as instrument of destabilization so that the international community becomes apprehensive about the future of the new country. Sudan is essentially dragging the new nation into mud in order to make itself a little bit better.
Another indicator where South Sudan receives a bad rating is ‘progressive deterioration of public services’. It received 9.8 out of 10. The decision to shut down oil production dramatically reduced government’s revenues. South Sudan had to adopt severe austerity measures to live within its means, and this undoubtedly affected investment in public services. As the inflow of income improves, the government will surely focus on spending on public health, education, infrastructure, and social safety net in order to raise the living standards of its people. Again, this rating is somewhat influenced by the unsettled relations with Sudan. The decision to shut down oil production was in response to Khartoum’s decision to use the pipeline crossing its territory as a political tool. It is therefore fair to evaluate whether it is the policy of the government of South Sudan to not provide public services to its people, or whether external factors are to blame.
South Sudan received poor rating in terms of security apparatus; rise of factionalized elite, and intervention of external factors (FSI-FFP). In area of security apparatus, South Sudan is struggling to professionalize its armed forces. However, the rise of factionalized elite is a debatable issue. How does the FFP actually measure this indicators? Does it means that there is an elite group in South Sudan that is detached from the average citizenry? It is not all that clear. True, there is a governing part of the society running the affairs of the country, but that is not different from other countries in the West. It would be interesting to understand the algorithm that decided to award South Sudan 10 out of 10 in this category. The intervention of external actors is also fuzzy. External actors range from an invasion to the United Nation’s missions. South Sudan has a UNMISS left over from the CPA era. They are performing mostly humanitarian roles in South Sudan. It is still a mystery to me how the FFP CAST software decided to give South Sudan 10 out of 10 in this category.
Overall, South Sudan has some difficulties. Many of the problems come from unresolved issues with Khartoum, and Khartoum’s deliberate policies to weaken South Sudan in the eyes of international community. South Sudan is doing well if one considers that it is governed by former commanders who had little experience running a country. It is easy for a field commander to lead men to war than to govern a country. The FFP CAST software is unfairly lumping South Sudan with Sudan in its rating of FSI. There are clearly issues in the neighboring Sudan that affects South Sudan and those issues could potentially trick a computer software into thinking that the conditions that apply to one must also be present in the other country. Yes, it is fair to argue that South Sudan is being unfairly rated to be included in the top five failed states. It is not a failed state.
The author is a South Sudanese living in the United States. He can be reached at email@example.com