Most African Countries Are Generally Becoming Less Fragile


The Fragile State Index (FSI) 2019 showed that most African countries are generally less fragile, with slight improvements since previous years. The FSI, published by Fund for Peace, ranks countries based on how different pressures they face “impact their levels of fragility.” The FSI takes into account variables such as security, factionalized elites, economy, state legitimacy, demographic pressures, refugee and human rights, and rule of law while determining the rank.

Most And Least Improved African Countries 

Although 21 out of the 30 most fragile countries in the 2019 FSI are African countries, there have been improvements in the overall rankings of many countries. The most improved country is Ethiopia. The country’s downward trend over the past decade was reversed with the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in April 2018. The Prime Minister inherited a country that was engaged in widespread violent protests calling for the inclusion of other ethnic groups in governance and economy. Since taking office, he has instituted political reforms that have increased the number of women in high governmental positions and freed thousands of political prisoners. Additionally, his efforts have boosted the economy, especially by increasing the presence of foreign investors. In less than one year, the Prime Minister has rejuvenated not only the country but the entire region, especially by signing a new peace treaty with Eritrea and opening their shared border. Ethiopia is now ranked 37th in Africa, eight places better than when Prime Minister Ahmed took office in 2018.

The Republic of the Gambia is also one of the most improved countries, not only in Africa but in the world. After President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year reign ended by force in 2016, the tiny West African nation has undergone noteworthy changes. President Adama Barrow inherited a government that lacked legitimacy due to a long history of human rights violations and the country’s position as an important transit route for drug traffickers. Like Prime Minister Ahmed in Ethiopia, President Barrow released many political prisoners, many of whom had been imprisoned without trial. He also reversed his predecessors’ decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Though The Gambia has remained in the High Warning Category since the fall of President Jammeh, it is currently ranked 20th in the continent, eight better than in 2016.

African Island nations have consistently ranked among the most stable countries in the continent. Mauritius entered uncharted territory, becoming the first African country to be ranked as Very Stable. The Southern African island is now in the same rank as France, the UK, the US, and Japan. Seychelles, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principle, and Comoros ranked 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 18th, respectively, in the continent.

Though most African countries saw a slight improvement in the Fragile State Index, a few African countries saw a decline in rank, representing an overall increased fragility. The Sahel Region, which includes Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, remains one of the most fragile regions in the continent. The region has remained in the spotlight due to the counter-terrorism efforts by G5 Sahel, a regional security force supported by France. The G5 is battling several extremist groups including Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, MUJWA, and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).  The Sahel nations rank between High Warning and Alert, with Mali’s rank in the continent dropping to 38th and Chad remaining at 49th. Battling terrorism has been further complicated by climate change, which increases the likelihood of conflict due to greater food insecurity as farmers and pastoralists fight for land and other resources.

Does Good Leadership Bring Stability And Less Fragility?

By looking at Africa’s trajectory in the FSI over the past three years (2016-2018), one important trend that seems to influence the fragility of a country is leadership. In this year’s report, as illustrated by the case studies of Ethiopia and The Gambia, a new leader who values human rights can lead to the overall reduction of fragility in a country.  Countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa have also demonstrated a similar trend.

Though it is not automatically true that a new leader equates to less fragility, as seen in Tanzania, which has become more fragile under Magufuli’s presidency, this trend is important to analyze in the context of upcoming elections. 17 African countries are electing new leaders in 2019 and 6 others are expected to have legislative or local elections or referendums. The outcome of the Algeria and Sudan revolutions are yet to be determined, as protestors are still in the streets demanding the fall of remnants of previous regimes.   In the three elections that have occurred already in Comoros, Senegal, and Nigeria, the incumbent presidents won the elections, though with contention from opposition groups. The re-election of the incumbent president of Comoros is proving problematic, as he is arresting opposition members. This is concerning, since the small island nation has had 20 coups or attempts to seize power since gaining independence from France in 1975. Additionally, the incumbent president has been making moves to change the constitution to ensure a “constitutional coup,” another alarming trend.  As long as Africans continue to elect leaders who are self-serving and act in the interests of the elite rather than the ordinary mwananchi (person), leadership will continue to be a vital variable that influences the fragility of African countries. More efforts must be made to build the capacity of the African youth so that they can replace the incompetent mammoths currently leading the continent.

Loise Ndegwa

Loise Ndegwa is currently a Masters student at the University of Cape Town studying International Relations. She is also a Mandela-Rhodes scholar 2016 Cohort.

About Loise Ndegwa

Loise Ndegwa is currently a Masters student at the University of Cape Town studying International Relations. She is also a Mandela-Rhodes scholar 2016 Cohort.