The term ‘failed state’ has steadily been replaced internationally by the softer expression ‘fragile state’, especially since 2014. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute wrote that the term failed “suggests a certain degree of finality where states are permanently subject to instability. The institute noted that the term ‘fragile state’, on the other hand, “suggests that states are weak but can improve from their poor position.” Others prefer to use the term ‘failing state’.
An essay entitled “Characteristics of a failed state” notes that among the traits that identify failed states are loss of physical control of its territory, inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community and inability to provide public services. However, as its ‘softer’ version, the level of instability in fragile/failing states is significantly lower. Different sources characterize fragile/failing states as those that have central governments so weak that they cannot ensure the security of citizens, consistently and legitimately enforce its laws and provide public service.
Moreover, Foreign Policy Magazine uses social, economic, political and cohesiveness indicators to determine the fragility of states in its ‘State Fragility Index.’ Accordingly, its social indicators include: demographic pressures (food supply, access to safe water, etc.), refugees or internally displaced persons and external intervention. Economic indicators include: economic decline, uneven economic development, human flight and brain drain. The political indicators used are: state legitimacy, basic public services, human rights and the rule of law. The cohesion indicators used are: security apparatus (ability to respond to threats and attacks), factionalized elites (fragmentation of state institutions) and group grievance (divisions between groups in the society).
Following an aggregate of six years of social unrest and political instability, some political analysts argue that part of the identifying characteristics of fragile/failing states apply to Ethiopia. The three identifying traits of failed states that are stated above indicate that Ethiopia is not a failed state. However, argues a political analyst who spoke to The Reporter on condition of anonymity, present trends indicate that it is a fragile/failing state. Explaining the claim, the analyst raised the government’s inability to ensure security of citizens as demonstrated in numerous peripheral and central parts of the country. “Mass killings, identity based attacks that claim the lives of hundreds in one instance and organized military force that burned down a whole town into ashes are just some of the indicators of the government’s inability to ensure the security of citizens,” the analyst underscored.
The presence of such insurgent groups in Tigray, Wollega, North Shoa, Benishangul, Gura Ferda and other parts of the country deters the federal government’s capacity to consistently and legitimately enforce its laws, argues the analyst. In some of these areas, the source indicated, local government structures have been completely dismantled or are left at the “mercy” of the insurgents. “You can take Metekel or some localities of Wollega for instance,” the source corroborated the argument.
The Reporter’s source in Metekel who usually prefers to be identified by their initial “M” pointed out that only five or six of the 22 kebeles in Bulen woreda of Metekel zone are functioning. M further underscored that these local government offices are barely serving the people with the “only noteworthy assistance” to the people in the five or six kebeles coming from a CSO called Action for the Needy Ethiopia.
The political analyst also raises Ethiopia’s 21st position on the State Fragility Index 2020, just one place better off Libya which is ranked 20th, to back the claim. The analyst also raised the millions of internally displaced people in the country, the immense foreign pressure, the poor state of human rights protection, the weakened capacity of the army to respond to foreign invasion as witnessed in the case of the Sudanese incursion into Gondar, the involvement of Eritrea in the Tigray war and the heightened sense of social division among members of a community as reasons that back the fragility of the Ethiopian state.
The analyst argues that the cases raised above are testament to the government’s inability to consistently enforce its laws and provide citizens with public service. With failure to ensure security to citizens already raised earlier, the analyst is adamant that Ethiopia fulfills the major three characteristics of fragile/failing states and is thus one. The source further notes that contributing factors to fragility such as: insurgency, high crime rates, corruption and judicial incompetence are all increasing alarmingly across the country. Then the analyst concludes that the present governmental trend of inaction and indifference could render the country a failed state, if not addressed promptly.
Kassahun Berhanu, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Addis Ababa University, does not agree with the claim that Ethiopia is already a fragile/failing stating. For him, the country is in deep trouble but it has the chance to find its way out of them. If it cannot respond to these pressing matters, however, the Professor warns that it might end up becoming a fragile/failing state.
Kassahun (Prof.) agrees with the assessment that the government has not been able to ensure the security of citizens. However, he contends that there have been attempts by the government to avert such dangers. The major threat in this regard, he argues, comes from people in government structures who aid destabilizing forces. Another point he raised was that the public has to do its part to ensure security. Measures recently taken against Amhara region officials who did not carry out their duties, he believes, are encouraging steps other regions should follow.
As to the state of contributing factors such as judicial incompetence, Kassahun (Prof.) remarked that it has a number of problems piled up over the years. He raised the refusal of law enforcement bodies such as the police to follow legal procedures when courts release prisoners on bail as instance of regression of justice. Kassahun (Prof.) thinks corruption has continued but doesn’t think it has gone worse. He said foreign pressure is largely political. “Although not satisfactory, the state of foreign relations is progressing steadily,” he remarked citing the recent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decision that favored the Ethiopian government as a case in point. He also dismissed the State Fragility Index as a real indicator, claiming that it involves perceptions.
Speaking on whether the government is weak, he remarked: “I can’t argue that it is strong but it has to work hard to cleanse itself off saboteurs.” In his opinion, the administration is filled with double agents who carry twin convictions. To reverse the trend of ‘inaction’, he suggested the government become determined and active in averting security threats. He also advised that election may not be the only way as raising the sword and putting things under control needs to come first.
Taking the milder of the two arguments, Ethiopia at least appears to be on the brink of becoming fragile/failing state unless immediate action is taken to avert the present course of events. With numerous data raised by the anonymous political analyst laying the basis for the country to be termed fragile/failing, it might as well already be one. Therefore, the government needs to act fast to mobilize the public and rescue it from descending deeper into the pit of failure.