Though it is called the Failed States Index, that is not to say that every country on the FSI is a failed state — after all, Finland is ranked on the FSI. That is also not to say that any country on the FSI is necessarily failed — though Somalia might be the closest approximation to what many people may consider to be a failed state. Rather, the Failed States Index measures the pressures experienced by countries and thus adjudges their susceptibility to state failure. Ranking top on the FSI does not in and of itself mean that a country is failed — it simply means that of all countries, that one country is the most at risk of failure.

Even when we talk about state failure, the description itself is in many ways too loose. A country may, for example, experience levels of state failure in certain geographical areas (such as ungoverned or poorly governed territories). Mexico, for example, is nationally ranked 97th, yet it could be argued that the state has failed in some geographical areas now under the influence of drug cartels more than the state itself. Or, a state may experience a level of failure in certain facets. North Korea, for example, is quite militarily proficient but its social and economic indicators are under serious pressure. So even where it is experienced, state failure may only be experienced in part.

Is Somalia a failed state? And if so, is it failed in whole or in part? We will leave that for others to decide. What we will do however is present our assessment of the pressures experienced by Somalia — and 177 other countries.

Nevertheless, as with any index, there must be a top and a bottom. The top ten countries in the Failed States Index for 2013 are detailed here to provide some basic context as to their recent performance and to begin to illustrate why they find themselves at the wrong end of the FSI.

Overall, there was little movement in the Top 10 since 2012. The standings in the Top 10 are affected by the official introduction of South Sudan at 4th, which has effectively pushed most countries down one rank simply by muscling them out of the way. Somalia, D.R. Congo, and Sudan are unchanged in their rankings. Similarly, were it not for South Sudan’s introduction, the rankings of Chad, Afghanistan, and Haiti would also have been unchanged.

Rankings, of course only tell part of the story. Of more interest are the scores themselves. Though the Top 10 is largely unchanged in terms of ranks, most of them experienced a worsening in their score in 2013, the exceptions being Somalia and Zimbabwe.


2012 was a year of change for Somalia. After the deterioration of 2011, the country rebounded slightly on the FSI.

In September, al-Shabaab was forced to withdraw from its main strongholds, most notably Kismayo, after an impressive effort undertaken by African Union troops to dislodge the group. Despite this victory, there continued to be large numbers of suicide attacks in Mogadishu carried out by members of the group.

The famine that claimed an estimated 260,000 lives in 2011 finally ended, although over 2 million people still remained food insecure.

Pirate attacks, an international scourge over the past five years finally began to fall, from 233 reported attacks in 2011 to 70 in 2012, largely due to innovative regional and international efforts.

Following a UN-brokered peace process, the first formal parliament in 20 years was sworn in and presidential elections then followed, with the charismatic Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared the winner.

Despite some notable improvements, Somalia is still considered one of the most dangerous places on the planet and certainly one of the least stable. However, the changes seen in 2012 have engendered a cautious optimism that perhaps, for the first time in FSI history, the country may find itself out of the top spot in coming years.

Congo, D.R.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has continued its climb on the FSI, slowly creeping up on Somalia’s claim to top place on the Index.

Throughout 2012, the DRC remained in political turmoil with a large rebel presence, known as M23, continuing to operate on its territory. The group, which has been accused of human rights abuses including random and indiscriminate attacks such as rape and torture on civilian populations, are alleged to have been receiving support from Uganda and Rwanda.

In addition to the M23 rebels, the poorly trained and equipped Congolese army has also been accused of perpetrating gross human rights violations against civilians, particularly in Eastern Congo. The continued instability in the DRC displaced thousands and created an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis in a country that never seems to get a break.

On top of the rampant violence that took place during 2012, DRC has faced outbreaks of disease, specifically Ebola and Cholera, with wholly inadequate medical facilities.

The DRC is classified as one of the worst countries for abuses against women with the eastern part of the country being dubbed ‘the rape capital of the world’. All forms of sexual violence, including acts perpetrated against children, are rampant in the DRC with a report by the American Medical Association stating that up to 40% of women in the eastern part of the country had reported having been raped in their lifetimes.


Continued strife between Sudan and South Sudan added to the pressures that both states experienced during 2012.

Armed conflict took place between South Sudan’s Unity state and Sudan’s South Kordofan over control of the oil fields and the pipelines in the highly contested Abyei territory.

The lack of agreement over the demilitarized zone and Abyei territory has impeded discussions on South Sudan exporting oil through Sudan. Sudan’s decrease in oil revenue was due largely to delays in South Sudan’s production coming online, thus preventing Khartoum from earning the export fees for its role in bringing South Sudanese oil to market.

Fighting between Sudan’s government forces and rebels within Sudan, largely in Unity and South Kordofan states, displaced an estimated 655,000 people and created short-term food and medical crises.

In June, austerity measures implemented by the government in the face of reduced oil revenues led to large-scale student protests in Khartoum, which turned into violent clashes with police, further underscoring Sudan’s precarious dependence on a single resource economy.

The lack of economic diversity has led to Sudan’s continued decline on the FSI and underlines the need for economic and political reform with a focus on economic diversification, stronger public services, and a more professional security sector to deal with civil unrest.

South Sudan

South Sudan’s first complete year on the FSI shows it sinking into the same cycles of instability that many of its neighbors face. Despite the large volume of aid that has flowed into the country since independence, it has been unable to effectively utilize those resources towards actual capacity building.

Corruption is endemic in South Sudan, with an estimated $4 billion of public funds having gone stolen or unaccounted for by mid-2012 alone.

Migration between South Sudan and Sudan continues to be high; upward of 170,000 refugees crossed the border from Sudan into the new state during 2012. This added to South Sudan’s food shortages following the drought that the country faced during 2012 as well as contributed to overall population pressure in a place ill-equipped to provide even the most basic services.

Armed conflict with Sudan over oil rights and disputed pipeline fees prompted the government in Juba to halt oil production in January, a risky move as 98% of their income was projected to come from oil production.

International aid groups are beginning to accuse the government and other factions of perpetrating gross human rights violations including rape, torture, and execution.
Media freedom was also sharply curtailed. A notable journalist was killed after speaking out against government-sponsored corruption and violence.

Independence has failed to provide the South Sudanese population with a reprieve from conflict with continued tensions over land and resources.


Although Chad shifted down one slot on the FSI this year because of the addition of South Sudan, its actual individual score worsened.

Throughout 2012, Chad received large numbers of refugees from both Sudan and the Central African Republic as a result of their internal conflicts and growing humanitarian crises. Its own number of IDPs increased by an estimated 90,000 individuals over the year with the government having little to no capacity to address the additional needs created by the increase in refugees and IDPs.

There was continuing concern in Chad throughout 2012 due to increased desertification and drought, as the semi-arid land is strained by high demand on scarce resources.

There was an increase in the number of youth reportedly joining armed gangs and radical movements due to high rates of unemployment and few opportunities for alternative livelihoods. Already experiencing instability along religious and tribal lines that have been exacerbated in the past by the large influx of refugees from neighboring conflicts, Chad is confronted by increased overall volatility and a spike in small arms and trained individuals proliferating into the country, particularly along the borders.

Overall, Chad continued to be one of the poorest countries in the world, with a dire lack of resources and public services. Instability was exacerbated by increased flows of refugees and arms and an increasingly radicalized youth population.


Yemen’s FSI score has been steadily getting worse since 2007 with 2012 representing its poorest showing on the Index so far.

In the shadow of the Arab spring, protests in Yemen over massive human rights violations including arbitrary detention, attacks on free speech, and the use of child soldiers, caused President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down at the end of 2011. This raised hopes for stabilization and democratization in the highly factionalized country.
The transitional government that succeeded him faced many challenges and was confronted by the wide-ranging abuses Saleh’s regime perpetuated as well as addressing the conflict between the North and South, neither of which the state was adequately prepared to address.

Adding to the challenges facing Yemen, the U.S. continued to conduct the highly controversial campaign of covert piloted and drone attacks on alleged al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants in Yemen. U.S.-conducted operations increased during 2012 — hugely unpopular in Yemen. The drone strikes further underscored the belief on the part of many Yemenis that the government was complicit in attacking its own citizens.

As the number of IDPs doubled in 2012 to nearly a half million, reports indicated that a record 10 million people lacked sufficient food, half the population did not have access to clean water, and reductions in access to health care have led to increased outbreaks of disease.


Afghanistan, 12 years and billions of dollars later, continues to represent one of the most unstable countries in the world.

Although the United States and its NATO allies have begun their drawdown, the process was hampered in 2012 by high rates of ‘green on blue’ violence, with members of the Afghan military and police attacking their international partners. This led to an initial halt in joint patrols and then increased vetting for new recruits and re-vetting of current recruits in an attempt to enhance security. Overall, these incidents also cast a pall over operations as a continued lack of trust continued despite years of effort and resources.

The drawdown process was also hindered by the large-scale violent protests that took place across the country following reports of NATO troops burning copies of the Koran and other religious items at a base.

In March of 2012, an American soldier entered a village in Kandahar province and killed 16 sleeping Afghan civilians, including women and children, triggering further backlashes against the occupation.

Assassinations of local Afghan political figures and religious leaders by the Taliban and other groups continued to undermine efforts at an inclusive peace process, most notably with the assassination of Arsala Rahmani of the High Peace Council, a former Taliban Minister and key figure in negotiations with rebel factions.


Haiti continues its slow struggle towards recovery following the devastating earthquake of 2010, improving slightly in its score from last year’s FSI.

The country’s capacity to cope with the onslaught of natural disasters and resulting disease remains low. Despite a large influx of aid since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti remains extremely fragile, with widescale corruption and limited government capacity hindering efforts at recovery and impairing its ability to provide basic goods and services for most of the population.

In 2012, there were several large protests over the cost of living and President Martelly’s proposal to revive Haiti’s Army, leading to calls for his resignation. With the violent history of the Haitian army, many believe that any reemergence of the military would return the island nation to its brutal past.

The forced eviction of residents from temporary housing that they had occupied since the 2010 earthquake also created controversy. Many aid organizations protested this reaction by the government stating that adequate housing was still not available. Police brutality and an inappropriate use of force by security services was also widely reported in the process.

In addition, the dire state of the public services in Haiti, including an abysmal medical system and a dearth of trained professionals from all sectors, continued to hamper the country’s progress.

Central African Republic

The Central African Republic (CAR) rose from 10th to 9th on this year’s FSI with an increase in its individual aggregate score of 1.5 points.
Throughout 2012, natural disasters in the form of flooding impacted both the food supply and the level of disease in a country that already struggles with inadequate infrastructure and public services.

There was an increase in violence and abductions during the year due to the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in southeastern CAR. With the LRA in the southeast and armed groups in the north, over 27,000 people were displaced in 2012 from fighting and overall insecurity.

There were violent protests throughout the year over government policies as well as riots that culminated in attacks on prisons, freeing inmates.

Protests also erupted in December as French troops were deployed to Bangui to reportedly protect French nationals and facilitate their safe escort out of the country. Protestors accused the French of trying to prop up the beleaguered government as rebel forces closed in on the capital. Both the UN and the US also issued evacuation orders for their staff and citizens.

By December of 2012, rebels had overtaken most of the CAR, including the capital, forcing the government to flee in to exile. The coup was widely condemned by the international community.


Zimbabwe saw a significant improvement on the 2013 FSI moving from 5th place in 2012 to 10th this year, the fourth year of consecutive improvement.

The economic situation in Zimbabwe improved as the European Union (EU) lifted sanctions on members of government, though not President Mugabe himself. The biggest improvement came at the end of the year as the EU lifted further restrictions and began giving foreign assistance directly to the Zimbabwean government. Although sanctions against the government were relaxed, there was not immediate reports of improvement in the economic situation on the ground for regular Zimbabweans.

Widespread human rights violations continued throughout the country. The violations included arresting members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise during peaceful protests on human rights and economic conditions. Other groups considered threats to the government were also harassed.

Political tensions were high at the beginning of 2012 with reports of Mugabe’s illness. Rumored to be on his death bed in Singapore, he returned to Harare in seemingly good health in April.

With elections reported to take place during the second half of 2013, it remains to be seen if Zimbabwe can hold on to its trend of improvement or if elections will send it into a political tailspin. Overall, although its score did improve in 2012, the country remains extremely fragile and much of its population in dire circumstances.