Is Kenya a failed state? Not by any stretch of imagination! And it is extremely ridiculous that we should all be getting seriously hot under the collar because it has been suggested that we are – a suggestion that is in fact merely the subjective interpretation by our local media and partisan netizens of criteria defined by, statistics gathered by, and analyses conducted by the think-tank Fund for Peace and the magazine Foreign Policy.
Because we have had such an emotive response to an essentially wrong interpretation of the facts, we have completely failed to do a rational evaluation of the said criteria and the scores our country has been awarded for each criteria. Our response has been so heated we have completely failed to assess whether those criteria are reasonable – and whether the score we have been awarded is justifiable. We have quickly sank into the oh-so-tiring claims of a western conspiracy, and neo-colonialism, and ‘why is it that it is African countries that are ranked bottom?’
Now, let us try be rational about this – let us try to evaluate the whole thing with our minds rather than with our national pride and partisan ethno-political inclinations. The ranking is based on the summation of the scores of 12 indicators of state vulnerability – emphasis is mine. Of these indicators, 1 to 4 are social, 5 and 6 are economic, and 7 to 12 political. For each indicator, the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest intensity (most stable) and 10 being the highest intensity (least stable). Hence, the total score – indicating the state’s vulnerability – NOT failure – is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0 to120. The higher a state scores, the more vulnerable it is to state failure. The score does not say any particular country is a failed state, but rather indicates the likelihood of it descending into a failed state should the hazardous risks it is subject to become reality – a state may have a very high score indeed and STILL NOT BE A FAILED STATE!
All countries in the red category (Alert, Failed State Index of 90 or more), orange category (Warning, Failed State Index of 60 or more), or yellow category (Moderate, Failed State Index of 30 or more) display some features that make parts of their societies and institutions vulnerable to failure. Some in the yellow zone may be failing at a faster rate than those in the more dangerous orange or red zones. Similarly, some in the red zone, though critical, may exhibit some positive signs of recovery or be deteriorating slowly, giving them time to adopt mitigating strategies that would then prevent or pre-empt state failure.
So, how did Kenya perform? And was the indicated performance reasonable? Let us see:
- Demographic pressures: We scored 9.1– a very high score indeed, indicating our vulnerability in this respect. This indicator measures the pressures deriving from high population density relative to food supply and other life-sustaining resources. It evaluates pressure from human settlement patterns and physical settings, including border disputes, ownership or occupancy of land, access to transportation, control of religious or historical sites, and proximity to environmental hazards. It includes an evaluation of the proportion of ‘youth’ in the population – a large ‘youth bulge’ being an indicator of potential socio-political unrest. As a country we most certainly have serious issues of land ownership associated with historical events; we are classified as a water-scarce nation; we have perennial border disputes – especially between agricultural and pastoral communities and different politico-administrative units; and our water catchment areas are under severe threat while our premier farming lands are being gobbled up by urban sprawl. Over 73% of our 43,500,000 people are aged below 30 years because of rapid population growth. That score is in my opinion fair.
- Massive movement of refugees and internally displaced persons: On this we scored 8.7 – another high score. This indicator measures the forced uprooting of communities as a result of random or targeted violence and/or repression, causing food shortages, disease, lack of clean water, land competition, lack of public housing, and turmoil that can spiral into larger humanitarian and security problems, both within and between countries. We most certainly have had IDPs in the past one year, and still have them – we are indeed creating more with the ongoing inter-clan strife in Mandera, and previously with the intercommunity conflict in the Tana. We have hundreds of thousands of refugees from other countries. Need I say more?
- Legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance: We scored 9.0 on this indicator, which evaluates group disaffection based on recent or past injustices, which could date back centuries. This includes atrocities committed with impunity against community groups and/or specific groups singled out by state authorities, or by dominant groups, for persecution or repression and institutionalized political exclusion, read ‘marginalisation’ in Kenyan parlance. It also takes into account public scape-goating of groups believed to have unfairly acquired wealth, status or power – normally through “hate” radio, pamphleteering and stereotypical or ethno-nationalistic political rhetoric. Does that sound like phrases that were plagiarised from the Waki Report and the TJRC Report? Is it sounding like 41 vs 1, or 1 vs 41 or more recently, 40 vs 2 or 2 vs 40? Is it sounding eerily like Kenya, right down to the threatening leaflets and hate-speech on Tribe FM? We most certainly deserve that score!
- Chronic and sustained human flight: On this we scored 7.8 – a modest score compared to the other three. This indicator measures both the ‘brain drain’ of professionals, intellectuals and political dissidents and voluntary emigration of ‘the middle class’. It includes the growth of exile/expatriate communities. That we have suffered severe brain-drain goes without saying. At some point, I understand there were more Kenyan doctors in public hospitals in Southern Africa countries than there were Kenyan doctors in public hospitals in Kenya! And there is a huge number of Kenyan nursing officers in Europe and the United States. That we have a huge Kenyan expatriate community in the West is also fact. That emigration is a dream of many, particularly young, Kenyans is also a fact. I think this score is a little high – but represents a true picture of the national trend.
- Uneven economic development along group lines: On this we scored 8.3. This indicator measures marginalisation and perceived marginalisation as determined by group-based inequality in education, jobs, and economic status. It also measures group-based poverty levels, infant mortality rates and education levels. Again, does it not sound like our own TJRC report? Does it not sound like all those tirades, both fact-based and purely fictional, that one reads in Kenyan blogosphere? Isn’t it patently obvious when you think of Kenya north of Isiolo and east of Mtito Andei? Isn’t it the foundation on which we have built our no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, it-is-our-turn-to-eat politics? Once again, we deserve that score in my opinion.
- Sharp and/or severe economic decline: Our score here is 7.6. The indicator measures the progressive economic decline of the society as a whole using per capita income, GNP, debt, child mortality rates, poverty levels, and business failures. It measures drops in commodity prices, trade revenue, foreign investment or debt payments. It factors in collapse, decline or devaluation of the national currency and a growth of hidden economies, including the drug trade, smuggling, and capital flight. Failure of the state to pay salaries of government employees and armed forces or to meet other financial obligations to its citizens, such as pension payments, is also included. We are told that in the last ten years, absolute poverty levels in Kenya have declined to well below 50% of our population and our economy has grown significantly. But there have also been perpetual complaints that this growth has only been felt by the upper economic echelons of society – while the bottom ranks have faced the same level or even increased levels of economic difficulty. Our national debt has also grown stupendously, while we have suffered decline in foreign direct investments. The Kenya shilling has suffered a stiff market-driven loss of value – at some point precipitating a parliamentary inquiry. Several well-known businesses have collapsed, and a number have relocated. The government is obviously unable to meet commitments to increase salaries for teachers. However, based on government figures for economic growth, this is certainly too high a score for Kenya.
- Criminalisation and/or delegitimisation of the state: On this we score 8.3. It measures endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites and resistance to transparency, accountability and political representation, including any widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes. We have most certainly suffered this – think Goldenberg, Angloleasing, Triton, the maize-scandal, etc – all of which remain unresolved. Indeed there are those that justifiably believe that ‘kleptoctacy’ accurately describes our system of crony capitalism! Think of our Members of Parliament who refuse to accept the decision of a constitutional commission, and impudently attempt to rescind it. Think of the half of the country that may have moved on, but do not feel that the government of the day represents them! Think of the confidence shock suffered by the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general as a result of the ruling on the presidential election petition by the former and the Goldenberg case by Justice Mutava.
- Progressive deterioration of public services: This indicator measures disappearance of basic state functions that serve the people, including failure to protect citizens from terrorism and violence and to provide essential services, such as health, education, sanitation, and public transportation. It also includes use of the state apparatus and resources mainly for the benefit of agencies that serve the ruling elites, such as the security forces, presidential staff, central bank, diplomatic service, customs and collection agencies. On this we score 8.1 – no doubt attributable to the endemic insecurity (including the recent massacres of police officers), the credibility crisis facing our education system, and the death traps that are our public hospitals. And of course public transportation is largely restricted to the often-traumatising matatu experience. Think of the increasingly prevalent feeling that this is a government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite!
- Widespread violation of human rights: On this we score 7.1 – in fact our best score. The indicator measures the emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial or military rule in which constitutional and democratic institutions and processes are suspended or manipulated, often accompanied by outbreaks of politically-inspired (as opposed to criminal) violence against innocent civilians. It includes a rising number of political prisoners or dissidents who are denied due process consistent with international norms and practices, and widespread abuse of legal, political and social rights, including those of individuals, groups or cultural institutions (e.g., harassment of the press, politicisation of the judiciary, internal use of military for political ends, public repression of political opponents, religious or cultural persecution.) That this is our best score is a true reflection of the great strides we have made in the area of human and people’s rights, but that past violations remain unpunished is a blight on this record. We still have some ways to go though – especially in the protection and facilitation of constitutionally guaranteed rights such as the right to peaceful assembly and protest. And we have had our share of politically-inspired violence against civilians. However, I feel the score is too high –we are firmly below 5 in this area.
- Security apparatus as “state within a state”: On this we score 8.1. This indicator measures the emergence of elite or exclusive praetorian guards that operate with impunity, the emergence of state-sponsored or state-supported private militias that terrorize political opponents, suspected “enemies,” or civilians seen to be sympathetic to the opposition, and an “army within an army” that serves the interests of the dominant military or political clique. The emergence of rival militias, guerilla forces or private armies in an armed struggle or protracted violent campaigns against state security forces would also boost the rating in this category. I was baffled as to why we would score rather highly in this category, but then I remembered that we do in fact have organised gangs that get politicized at certain times, that our police or organised elements therein carry out extra-judicial executions without sanction. But again, the score here is a little too high – I dare say we are below 5 on this one too.
- Rise of factionalised elites: On this we have the almost perfect score of 9.0 – and we richly deserve it! This indicator measures a fragmentation of ruling elites and state institutions along group lines. Use of aggressive nationalistic rhetoric by ruling elites, especially destructive forms of communal irredentism or communal solidarity (e.g., “ethnic cleansing”, “defending the faith”). In just our recent elections, we witnessed the powerful re-emergence of tribal organisations such as GEMA and KAMATUSA for purposes of political mobilisation, and the rise of ‘Councils of (tribal) Elders’ as a powerful tool for inter-ethnic political negotiations and deal-making. We heard calls of ‘supporting our own’, and ‘defending our own’ and we saw threats of ‘political war’ against those that did not support the acknowledged ethnic chiefs. On this score, surely there can be no debate!
- Intervention of other states or external factors: On this we scored 8.5. This indicator measures military or paramilitary engagement in the internal affairs of the state by outside armies, states, identity groups or entities that affect the internal balance of power or resolution of the conflict; as well as intervention by donors, especially if there an over-dependence on foreign aid or peacekeeping missions. We probably scored rather highly on this as a result the ICC intervention, necessitated by our continued sad failure to establish credible local mechanisms to investigate the events of 2007/8, and subject the perpetrators to due process. The fact that we have then regionalised and even internationalised what is essentially a domestic matter of law enforcement through various (sometimes dubious) diplomatic initiatives cannot have helped our case at all. But again, I think this is a rather high score.
All in all, these scores indicate a fragile but definitely functional state. A fragile state is one that is susceptible to crisis – one that could easily collapse in a perfect storm of related misadventures. It is a state that is vulnerable to internal and external shocks, including political conflict. Its policy, statutory, regulatory and institutional arrangements embody and even preserve the conditions that foster the fragility. In economic terms, these could be policies, statutes (including property rights), regulatory mechanisms and institutions that sustain extreme inequality in wealth, in access to land and in access to the means to make a living. This situation leads to low economic growth rates and in the extreme may cause stagnation and even regression. In social terms, the institutions of a fragile state may embody extreme inequality or complete lack of access to health, education and other socio-economic infrastructure and utilities. In political terms, these institutions may entrench exclusionary ethnic, religious, or regional coalitions in power, or cause extreme factionalism. In legal and constitutional terms, the institutional arrangements of a fragile state are often ambiguous or vague – capable of numerous and contradictory interpretations that are expediently exploited by various factions. This may lead to inter and intra-institutional conflicts, encourage arbitrariness, and the exercise of personal fiat – all likely leading to frustration and even instability.
That our own news outlets would conclude that the Failed State Index scores for Kenya indicate a failed state is more a reflection of their own professional and ethical failures than it is an indication of the status the Kenya state or the Failed States Index. However, to also dismiss the findings as meaningless, or biased or neo-colonial or anti-African is to show ones severely blinkered outlook – a head-in-the-sand attitude that has for five decades prevented us from effectively and conclusively addressing fundamental issues that threaten our statehood. We should treat the FSI as a reasonable, even if not entirely empirical, diagnostic tool that can help us get better and better in our continued march to a more perfect nationhood.