The Standard Blog

Is Kenya a failed state?

Published on 19/07/2009

By Roseleen Nzioka

A Professor who taught Research Methods and Methodology once told our class that “what you see depends on two things: Where you are standing and what direction you are facing.”

I suspect this statement may well inform the response to the public debate as to whether Kenya is a failed state or not.

From casual observation, one cannot fail to see that the political elite in Kenya froth at the mouth whenever anyone dares compare Kenya with her troubled neighbours such as Somalia or DRC. Such politicians use words like “we are a sovereign state” and “we have a duly elected government” to justify that we are not a failed state.

Rarely do the voices of the masses get the same publicity as those of the powerful elite on this debate or any other. It would be safe to say that politicians and wananchi would have converse opinions on the “failed state” debate because the two, metaphorically speaking, stand on different podiums and face different directions and therefore see and experience different “Kenya’s”.

The term “failed state” is often used by political commentators and journalists to describe a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government.

The Fund for Peace, United States-based think tank, uses the following attributes to characterie a failed state:

loss of physical control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein,

erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions,

an inability to provide reasonable public services, and

an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

On the other hand, the UK-based Crisis States Research Centre defines a failed state as a condition of “state collapse” that it can no longer perform its basic security and development functions and loses effective control over its territory and borders.

Since 2005, the Fund for Peace and the magazine Foreign Policy, publishes an annual index called the Failed States Index. The list only assesses sovereign states (determined by membership in the United Nations).

It has released this year’s Failed States Index. From a list of 177 failed states, Kenya is ranked 14th among the top 20. So if our politicians bothered to be informed they would realize that sovereignty does not exclude one from being a failed state as all 177 states named as failed states are all sovereign, some, like Somalia, with very impressive economic growth!

The index’s ranks are based on twelve indicators of state vulnerability – four social, two economic and six political.

Social indicators include: Demographic pressures; Massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples; Legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance; Chronic and sustained human flight.

Economic indicators include: Uneven economic development along group lines; Sharp and/or severe economic decline.

Political indicators include: Criminalisation and/or delegitimisation of the state; Progressive deterioration of public services; Widespread violation of human rights; Security apparatus as ‘state within a state’; Rise of factionalised elites; Intervention of other states or external factors.


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