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I need to know, is Kenya a failing state?

If I had a superstitious bone in me, I would be asking Kenyans to visit the nearest witch doctor in a bid to find out who lobbed a curse at our beloved country. In fact I now understand the attraction of ‘otherworldly’ practices when one misfortune after another defies logic. Note I said I understand the attraction, not that I subscribe to it or condone it.

For the past few months, there has been an endless stream of reporting on lives lost, most in the double digits, some like the Garissa massacre in the triple digits. But lest we become so inured to the loss of lives, they are never just numbers. They represent breadwinners, the hopes and dreams of communities, families and generations.

Far from being isolated tragic events, they leave behind far reaching devastating effects on the family and the economy. For example, a study that was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the impact of maternal death rates in developing countries. While this was a specific incident study, we can extrapolate that to child bearing women in general.

The study found stark differences between the health of children whose mothers did and did not survive. In the latter, children were often undernourished, forced to drop out of school to fend for themselves and their siblings and to take on difficult household and farm tasks.

In Kenya, one of the subjects of the study, it was found that children of mothers who died when they were young were far less likely to survive.

I refer to this study despite it being grounded in maternal health because of two reasons. First, it refers to the causes of death as being largely preventable. In my view, and experts may fault my logic as much as they want, a significant number of the insecurity and conflict-related deaths we have had in the country recently are also preventable.

Second, it reminded me of the deeply distressing reports we got of the Nadome murders, among whose casualties were 11 children and women. I assert, like I have before, that there is no one life less valuable, less precious or important than the other, regardless of real or perceived importance in the society. However, to invade a village and kill women and children is an action that is as base as it is cowardly.

When reading up on the international reaction towards the Nadome loss of lives, I came across one that referred to Kenya as a ‘failed state’. On further research I discovered that we have been appearing in this index since as early as 2012. That statement conjures images of Afghanistan and Somalia and literally leaves me cold.

I am not one to shirk strong words in denouncing poor governance. But I stop short of qualifying our country as a failed state, maybe because of the sheer discomfort it causes me. Failure is final, failure is absolute and I would much rather prescribe to the premise that there is still hope for us as a nation.
Fallible emotions aside, what parameters are used to categorize nations as failed states? Facts are facts and once you have these you can make your own judgement. Authors of ‘Why Nations Fail’ economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson differentiate between the countries that fall apart with a bang (like Afghanistan) displaying a complete collapse of all state institutions and those that break down ‘with a whimper’.

Collapse of the latter, they assert, is more commonly exemplified by countries in Sub Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is manifested in the deliberate destruction of incentives and innovation, robbing the citizens of opportunities by severely tilting the playing field in favor of the political and economic elite.

As a result, citizens are condemned to a life of poverty.

As diverse as the definitions for failed states may be, there are some common threads that run among them. They revolve around the inability of a nation to perform basic public functions such as education and security, governance and the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, the presence of widespread corruption and criminal activity and sharp economic decline.

Granted, none of the crises we’re facing as a country have a touch and go solution, to claim otherwise would be simplistic. Our insecurity situation, for example, requires a more concerted and multi-faceted approach than those of us who are armchair analysts can fathom.

But by its very nature, insecurity is interlinked, in a significant way to the embedded corruption and poor governance within and without our institutions and therefore needs urgent attention on an ongoing basis.

But despite the fact that my heart keeps breaking with an alarming alacrity over our numerous missteps, I am reluctant to consent to the tag of failed state. Call it naiveté or misplaced faith, I still think that despite all the doom and gloom there is much to hope for, to aspire to and to work for. I still believe that we can arrest the whimper before it becomes a fully blown cry.

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