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Postcards from Hell : East Africa

Somali PiratesCAPTIONS BY ELIZABETH DICKINSON |  JULY/AUGUST 2010 | Images from the world’s most failed states.

For the last half-decade, the Fund for Peace, working with Foreign Policy, has been putting together the Failed States Index, using a battery of indicators to determine how stable — or unstable — a country is. But as the photos here demonstrate, sometimes the best test is the simplest one: You’ll only know a failed state when you see it.

 

SOMALIA : FSI score: 114.3 (out of 120)

Somalia has topped the Failed States Index for the last three years — a testament not only to the depth of the country’s long-running political and humanitarian disaster, but also, as James Traub writes, to the international community’s inability to find an answer. After two decades of chaos, the country is today largely under the control of Islamist militant groups, the most notorious and powerful of which is al-Shabab. A second faction, Hizbul Islam, rivals the former in brutality — it recently executed two Somalis for the crime of watching the World Cup. Off the coast, pirates such as the men pictured here torment passing ships, often holding them hostage for a high price. In 2009, Somali pirates earned an estimated $89 million in ransom payments.

Sudanese RefugeesSUDAN : Score: 111.8

The next year will prove a decisive one for Sudan, perhaps more so than any other since the country’s independence in 1956. In January 2011, the people of South Sudan will vote in a referendum on whether they would prefer to remain an autonomous region — or secede as an independent state. All analysts predict it will be the latter, but they are equally certain that it won’t be so easy. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is likely to cling close to his control of the South, where much of the country’s oil riches lie. This is to say nothing of Darfur, where peacekeepers recently reported an uptick in violence with hundreds killed. In this scene, children crowd around a U.N. helicopter in the South Sudanese town of Akobo.

Kenyan Women carrying waterKENYA : Score: 100.7

Kenya, like the Ivory Coast, has lately shown that power-sharing arrangements can be as divisive as the conflicts they are meant to end. In Nairobi, the country’s president and prime minister have been perpetually at odds since their forced marriage in 2008. The government has done little to investigate or make amends for that year’s explosion of election-related violence. An exasperated Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who helped resolve the electoral dispute, has given the International Criminal Court names of people who are implicated — because Kenya seems unwilling to try them itself. Meanwhile, for the average Kenyan, all this has proved a distraction from everyday concerns. Villagers in northeastern Kenya, pictured here, carry water amid a drought of the sort that often threatens regional famine.

ethiopiaETHIOPIA : Score: 98.8

When Ethiopians went to the polls on May 23, there was little doubt whose party would win: that of Meles Zenawi, the incumbent prime minister. Indeed, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front took all but two of the country’s 547 parliamentary seats — an unbelievably high tally given that many think the opposition may have won the previous vote, in 2005. This time around, Zenawi ratcheted up the repression, passing a draconian NGO law, barring public meetings, and intimidating would-be opposition voters. The opposition is challenging the win in court, but international condemnation has been muted. Politics aside, Ethiopia is no stranger to misery; more than a third of children under 5 in this famine-cursed country are underweight. The women pictured here are queuing to vote in the May 23 presidential election.

EritreaERITREA : Score: 93.3

Recently described by Human Rights Watch as a “giant prison,” Eritrea stands alone for its repression in Africa. The country got off to a rough start, gaining its independence from Ethiopia in a bloody war that ended in 1993, but troops have often mobilized ominously along both sides of the border. Mandatory military service is the national pastime, with all citizens required to enter the army as young adults. Scarce food and fuel, generalized repression, and rampant poverty has sent refugees fleeing abroad. The near-empty streets pictured here have an eerie, lingering quality of solitude.

 

*This issue of Foreign Policy Magazine truly validates the adage that a picture speaks louder than words.

 

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