Ethiopia’s Legitimate Government, Worrisome Demography

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Published On  July 18,  2010; Addis-Fortune,Volume 11, Number 533

The Failed Sate Index, annually conducted by the US-based Fund for Peace (FfP), measures states’ vulnerability or risk of conflict. The index’s premise that all states are prone to fail might paint a grim picture of the world, but by measuring the vulnerability of a country it indicates which institutional capacities should be improved. Ethiopia ranked 17th, in the alert zone. A look into the details of the index by Daniel Berhane, a blogger at, is revealing.


Almost all states are prone to fail, however, degrees of failure vary. Out of 177 countries, only13 are stable, while 35 are considered moderate in vulnerability, according to this year’s Failed State Index based on data up to December 2009. The other 129 countries are in warning and alert stages; Ethiopia, along with 36 other states, being in the latter stage.

All countries, except for the 13 stable countries “display features that make significant parts of their societies and institutions vulnerable to failure,” according to FfP explanatory notes.

However, the rankings should not be overstated, cautions the FfP, as “these ratings do not necessarily forecast when [countries] may experience violence or collapse. Rather, they measure vulnerability to collapse or conflict.”

Some of the moderate countries may be failing at a faster rate than those considered in warning or alert stages, and could experience violence sooner. On the other hand, those in the alert stage may exhibit “positive signs of recovery or be deteriorating slowly, giving them time to adopt mitigating strategies.”

Political and economic reforms are matters of national survival, the Ethiopian government has long been warning. Similarly, “policymakers must focus on building the institutional capacity of weak countries, particularly the “core five” institutions: military, police, civil service, and the system of justice, and leadership,” the FfP advises.

Yet, Ethiopia ended up ranking 17th among the 37 countries in the alert zone.

The index is based on the total scores of each country in 12 indicators consisting of a total of 46 issues. Each indicator assesses three or four issues and is marked out of 10. Ideally, the most troubled country would score 10 points in each category with a total score of 120.

Unlike other respected organisations, the FfP does not disclose the methodology and sources it uses to measure countries’ performance, not even the number of sources and the margin of error.

They utilised thousands of electronic data “using a powerful data-collection system that includes international and local media reports and other public documents, including US State Department reports, independent studies, and even corporate financial filings,” the FfP claims.

Methodological questions aside, the index can be treated as a report card.

Demographic pressure, ascertained by measuring pressures deriving from high population density relative to food supply and other life sustaining resources, is the category where Ethiopia scored the worst. At 9.2, Ethiopia’s is the 10th worst score in this indicator. Although it has improved by 0.2 points and by six ranks from the previous year, it has remained more or less the same for the last four years. In fact, it is worse than the median of those in the alert group by 0.6 points.

Ethiopia fared better in its legitimacy of the state score. This year’s index rates criminalisation or delegitimisation of the Ethiopian state better than 58 countries with 7.7 points, which has improved by 0.2 points and four ranks from last year. A slight improvement is notable compared to the median of the previous years.

More interestingly, Ethiopia’s score is significantly better than those in the same group and very close to the median of the warning group.

Although Ethiopia’s score is not as good as that of South Africa, Italy, or Singapore which scored 5.8, 4.5, and 4.2, respectively, it scored far better than its neighbours Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Egypt, and Uganda. It also fared better than many other African countries including Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria and even scored higher than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Thailand, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, and Yemen.

The issues indicating the legitimacy of the state are massive and include endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites and resistance of ruling elites to transparency, accountability, and political representation.

Widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes, such as boycotted or contested elections, mass public demonstrations, sustained civil disobedience, inability of the country to collect taxes, as well as the growth of crime syndicates linked to ruling elites are also descriptions used to indicate the absence of legitimacy.

Ethiopia’s scores in the indicators of refugees and internationally displaced persons (IDPs) and public services are contrary to what might be expected.

Ethiopia took the 25th spot with 7.8 points on “massive movement of refugees or internally displaced persons creating complex humanitarian emergencies.” However, this has improved by 0.2 points and two ranks from the previous year. Also, Ethiopia’s score is notably better than the median of those in the alert group.

This is an area where Ethiopia should have scored worse, given recurrent food shortages, the instability in the region, and the high amount of refugees in Ethiopia.

It is worth noting that this indicator is supposed to measure “[f]orced uprooting of large communities as a result of random or targeted violence or repression, causing food shortages, disease, lack of clean water, land competition, and turmoil that can spiral into larger humanitarian and security problems, both within and between countries.”

In public service, Ethiopia ranks 43rd with 8.1 points, an improvement of 0.1 points from the previous year, when it held the 35th worst ranking. In fact, Ethiopia’s score is significantly better than the median of those in the same group and also better than many African countries, including Sudan, Nigeria, Mozambique, Eritrea, Yemen, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its score is also equal to that of Kenya, Angola, and Zambia.

However, it shows a regress of 1.1 points and 0.6 points when compared to 2007 and 2008, respectively. This seems contrary to Ethiopia’s record in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Human Development Index.

Perhaps the political and security elements in the indicator may have skewed the ratings. Although this indicator is labelled the “Progressive Deterioration of Public Services,” it includes the disappearance of basic state functions that serve the people, including the failure to protect citizens from terrorism and violence and to provide essential services, such as health, education, sanitation, and public transportation.

Presumably, real and anticipated terrorist acts and political violence as well as allegations of preferential treatment to government supporters in service delivery might have negated the enhancements in basic social services.

The indicators reflecting uneven economic development and economic decline seem to support the government’s claim of inclusive economic development. Reports of the twisting effects of inflation and currency devaluation seem to be offset by reports of improvements.

The indicator Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines assesses group based inequality, or perceived inequality, in education, jobs, and economic status; group-based impoverishment as measured by poverty levels, infant mortality rates, education levels; and the rise of communal nationalism based on real or perceived group inequalities.

This year’s index puts Ethiopia at 27th with 8.5 points, improving by 0.3 points and three ranks from the previous year. A slight improvement is also notable when compared to the median of previous years’ scores.

Similarly, Ethiopia fared better in the indicator Sharp or Severe Economic Decline. This year Ethiopia scored eight points, which is the 23rd score and improved from last year by 0.3 points and five ranks. It is also slightly better than the median of its previous scores.

Nonetheless, the lending to counter the foreign currency shortage, as a result of the global economic crisis, is reflected in the indicator Intervention of Other States or External Political Actors where Ethiopia scored 7.9 points and ranks 31th, which is worse than last year by six ranks and 0.3 points.

This indicator involves military and economic issues, including military or paramilitary engagement in the internal affairs of the state by outside agents that affect the internal balance of power or resolution of conflicts and intervention by donors, especially if there is a tendency towards overdependence on foreign aid or peacekeeping missions.

In Ethiopia’s case, it is the second issue that can be judged to be worsening. The 2009 Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found the country to be amoderate risk state. However, the assessment they released last month puts Ethiopia back in the low risk range of public external debt distress and projects no trouble in servicing its debt for the next decade.

Ethiopia takes 20th place with 8.6 points, improving by three ranks but regressing in 0.4 points when it comes to Legacy of Vengeance-seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia. It is also worse by 0.5 points from the median of the previous years.

This indicator includes a history of aggrieved communal groups, based on recent or past injustices, which could date back centuries.

Patterns of atrocities committed with impunity against communal groups or by dominant groups for the purpose of persecution or repression as well as institutionalised political exclusion and publicly making scapegoats of groups believed to have acquired wealth, status, or power as evidenced in the emergence of “hate” radio, pamphleteering, and stereotypical or nationalistic political rhetoric.

Similarly, Ethiopia showed a better rank but worse score in terms of Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law and Widespread Violation of Human Rights where it ranks 24th with 8.7 points, improved by one rank but regressing by 0.2 points from last year.

This indicator assesses the emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial, or military rule in which constitutional and democratic institutions and processes are suspended or manipulated. Presumably, reports of allegations of narrowing political space in the country determined these scores.

Ethiopia’s factionalised elites ranked 17th with nine points, which is worse than the previous year’s index by three ranks and 0.2 points. It does not show significant difference when compared to the median of previous years. Perhaps, that is because the score was already so high.

The two issues covered in the indicator Rise of Factionalised Elites are the fragmentation of ruling elites and state institutions along group lines and the use of nationalistic political rhetoric by ruling elites, often in terms of communal irredentism or communal solidarity. This must be an assessment of the Ethiopian Diaspora, opposition media on the Internet, and the anticipated postelection violence and crisis.

Ethiopia’s security apparatus is ranked at 30th with 7.8 points, regressing by 0.3 points and 10 ranks from last year. Nonetheless, the score is much better than those of Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Georgia and the same as Saudi Arabia and Cameroon.

The indicator Security Apparatus Operates as a State Within a State consists of the emergence of elite guards that operate with impunity the state-sponsored or supported private militias that terrorise political opponents, suspected enemies, or civilians seen to be sympathetic to the opposition. Possibly, terrorist bombings, exaggerated reports of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) activities, and allegations of opposition intimidation threats, which enjoyed wide media coverage, eschewed the ratings in this indicator.

The brain drain is the same as ever. The index shows no significant difference in terms of Chronic and Sustained Human Flight. This year, Ethiopia scored 7.5 points and ranked 29th, improving by 0.2 points and one rank level. Yet, the score is almost consistent with the previous years. Intriguingly, it is much better than that of Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Ghana, and Mozambique.

This indicator assesses the brain drain of professionals, intellectuals, and political dissidents fearing persecution or repression; voluntary emigration of the middle class, particularly economically productive segments of the population, such as entrepreneurs, businesspeople, artisans and traders, due to economic deterioration; and the growth of exile communities.

The writer Daniel Berhane can be reached at [email protected]

Published on July 18,  2010; Addis-Fortune,Volume 11, Number 533

Daniel Berhane

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