The statement refers to the persuasive power of numbers, the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions.
I make this statement with reference to the recent report published by a United States based think-tank. This ‘independent’ research organisation tagged the Fund for Peace, released the 2009 Failed State Index report based on a total of 177 countries that were surveyed.
According to the report Somalia ranks first out of the 15 most failed African countries surveyed. Zimbabwe was classified as coming in a close second.
The index ranking was premised on 12 indicators which are meant to quantify a states vulnerability to collapse or conflict. The failed African states so named and their ranks were Somalia (1st), Zimbabwe (2nd), Sudan (3rd), Chad (4th), Democratic Republic of Congo (5th), Central African Republic (8th), Guinea (9th), Ivory Coast (11th), Kenya (14th) and Nigeria (15th).
The organizers of the survey define that a state is said to have failed when it can no longer perform its basic security and developmental functions which include loss of physical control of its territory or the erosion of a legitimate authority to make collective decisions and the inability of that state to interact fully with other states as a full member of international institutions.
The organisers also allude that common characteristics of a failed state also include widespread corruption and criminality, refugees and the involuntary movements of populations and sharp economic decline generally.
In this treatise I will largely confine most of this discussion to Zimbabwe with ad hoc references to Africa in general.
What is interesting to note that organisation like the one above are based in America. America has over the years asserted its might to intervene militarily in the so called ‘failed states’ with devastating consequences. Iraq and Afghanistan being recent examples in our history. However critics like Noam Chomsky have turned the tables on institutions like Fund and Peace and redefined the term ‘failed state.
Chomsky defines failed states as those "that do not protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction, that regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and that suffer from a ‘democratic deficit,’ having democratic forms but with limited substance."
A cursory analysis of Britain and America’s recent foreign and domestic policies, Chomsky assesses Washington’s escalation of nuclear risks; the dangerous consequences of the occupation of Iraq; and Britain and America’s self-exemption from international law.
America and Britain have what they call democratic institutions that are meant to protect the generality of its citizens. For example the army and the police. The question that arises is to what extent these institutions do the job they are designed to do. If we are to assess the so called characteristics espoused by the Fund for Peace as signalling a failed state, then it would naturally follow that the most powerful economies America and Britain are indeed failed states and should be accorded that title. For example widespread criminality and corruption are touted as one of the most damaging contributory factors that push a state to the periphery of it being a failed state.
Recently in Britain members of parliament were forced to resign in large numbers as a result of widespread corruption following the widely publicised expenses debacle. If that is not enough, despite having one of the best police forces in the world Britain is regarded as one of the most violent destinations in the world with gun and knife crime a now a common everyday occurrence in the streets of London. Can we then say because of this Britain is a failed state? It is obvious that the state has completely lost physical control. Control is a fundamental security principle mentioned as a factor by the Fund for peace think tank in determining whether a country is a failed state or not.
In America gun crime and drug-lords run amok in the streets of New York, can we then say because of this scourge America is a failed state? African-Americans makeup roughly about 12 percent of the American population. What is interesting to note is that 40 percent of this class of people are in prison. There are more African-Americans in prison than they are in Universities. How does this static rate on the failed state indices when it comes to America. It is obvious that America as a state has failed this class of people and therefore should be regarded as a failed state.
Zimbabwe as a country is coming out of challenges that are a result of decisions that the government took collectively in an attempt to empower its people. These decisions were taken by a legitimate government, duly elected by the people in a plebiscite regarded by international organisations as free and fair.
What has since happened in Zimbabwe follows decision made by a government that was seeking to stay afloat following international isolation a result of the land redistribution exercise designed to empower the general populace.
Zimbabwe has been labelled a failed state because of its disregard or defiance of some of the unfair international decisions designed to overthrow its institutions of government. Defiance of international norms is another indices the Fund for Peace use as a means to measure whether a country is a failed state or not. If we were to define a failed state by its defiance of international law, then the United States has long been a rogue and failed state. It has ignored the Geneva Conventions left right and centre by its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Iraqi civilians in Fallujah, flouted the United Nations charter, which allows the use of force only when the ‘necessity of self defence arises by unilaterally going to war without the United Nations security council permission.
Another indices the Fund for peace alludes to in their survey is the issue of refugee and the involuntary movement of populations as a sign that a country has failed to look after its citizenry. The movement of populations from their country of origin can be attributed to a number of many reasons and hence it rather short sighted to attribute large movement of populations to the failure by that state to adequately protect its people. Zimbabwe has largely lost large numbers of its citizens due to a number of reasons. Amongst the most important is the shrinking economy that resulted from the economic sanctions and the recession in general, hence its inability to absorb its upward of 80 percent educated Zimbabweans.
Following the recession across the world there has been large movement of Europeans to Britain, largely for economic reasons. Can we then say that European countries where these people are coming from are failed states? Norway was voted as the best and most sustainable state in the survey produced by the Peace for Fund survey. Britain receives large numbers of Norwegians seeking jobs every day. Can we then say Norway is the most stable of all the states?
It is sometimes important for us Africans to look at why it is always organisations based in Britain and America who define who we should be. Is it not time for Africa to come up with parallel structures that also carry out similar surveys? Africa and indeed Zimbabwe needs parallel organisations that carry out these kind of surveys in order to counter these kind of challenges. Parallel organisations would look at other controversial areas like human rights, governance etc of which Africa is constantly being accused of lagging behind. Our own surveys will factor in cultural and other African factors that will ultimately affect any survey made. Our failure to come up with parallel organisations like the Fund for Peace and others will mean Zimbabwe and Africa in general will constantly remain a victim of "lies, damned lies" through such flawed statistics.
The writer Lloyd Msipa is a Lawyer based in the United Kingdom and can be contacted at email@example.com