May 15, 2017
Since violence erupted in South Sudan between government and opposition forces last summer, human rights groups have documented civilian killings, rapes and looting carried out by South Sudanese forces. While most victims are locals, international aid workers have also been killed and gang raped.
The country’s track record of atrocities has helped land it the No. 1 spot on the 2017 Fragile States Index. The ranking, released on May 12, cites deepening food security, ongoing conflict and reports of ethnic cleansing as reasons why the African country is once again considered the world’s most fragile state.
Since South Sudan was first included in the Index in 2013, it’s been in the top spot three times, says J.J. Messner, executive director of the Fund for Peace, the nonprofit research group that releases the Index.
“It’s an example of how a country that is very fragile can actually get worse,” he says. “The levels of instability seems to be nowhere near resolution.”
The annual index assesses 178 countries on 12 social, economic and political indicators that measure their susceptibility to instability. Africa and the Middle East are home to the most fragile states, according to the Index. Somalia, Central African Republic, Yemen and Syria were among the most prone to instability.
Creators of the Index argue that an individual country’s trajectory year over year can often be more telling than its individual ranking. This year, Mexico, Ethiopia and Turkeyworsened the most in the Index. Other countries with deteriorating scores include Brazil, the Gambia and South Africa.
In the case of Mexico, the Index pointed to record numbers of homicides and high-profile cases of organized crime. The decline in scores was a change for the country, which had been improving every year throughout the past decade, Messner says.
The Index called South Africa’s performance “particularly alarming,” noting the country’s rapid fall in the past decade. Only Libya, Syria, Yemen, Mali and Senegal have worsened more in the past 10 years.
The West also had its share of countries with worsening scores. The United Statesand the United Kingdom also saw their scores decrease – in part because of “divisive campaigns,” according to the Index.
Messner also attributes the decreased scores to lower performance in “group grievance indicators,” which measure schisms between societal groups and how those divisions are being exploited for political purposes. Both countries remain in the “very stable” category – the third best category out of a possible 11.
“Those are fair points to raise,” Messner says, adding that he has an international staff and a methodology that is largely quantitative and capable of analyzing “50 million data points every year.”
“I’d be wary of anyone who says they can predict international crisis or revolutions or any of those types of things,” he says. “What analysis like ours does do is provide early warnings.”