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BY J.J. MESSNER AND CHARLES FIERTZ

After 15 years of producing the Fragile States Index (FSI), we are frequently asked about how predictive of a tool it really is. So, to what extent can the FSI signal emerging crisis, as opposed to merely diagnosing current conditions?

Though prediction is inevitably bound by probability and uncertainty, given the complex and dynamic nature of socio-politics, the FSI can provide early warning that the conditions in a given context may be trending to be increasingly or decreasingly conducive to crisis. Put another way, while the timing or magnitude of an external shock may not be predictable, if and when a shock occurs in a highly fragile state, it is more likely to cascade across multiple social, economic, political, and security dimensions up to and including state collapse.

For the first time, the team behind the FSI has put together its “early warning” list of countries. Based on existing FSI trend data and an appraisal of developing issues and events, we have compiled a list of the ten countries that we believe will be the ‘big movers’ for FSI 2020.
 
 

High Confidence

The countries that, with a high degree of confidence, we believe will be among the most worsened countries in FSI 2020 (note that the countries are listed in alphabetical order, not order of anticipated ranking):

     

1. Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso has faced a significant deterioration in security over the past year, to the extent that by October 2019, recorded fatalities had surpassed 540% of those recorded in all of 2018. Such a worsening would be an unfortunate outcome for Burkina Faso, which had seen a generally improving on the FSI trend since 2013, having improved from 35th to 49th.

     
     

2. Chile

Chile has been one of the least fragile countries in Latin America, and has seen a generally improving trend since 2012. However, the past year has seen increasing pressure on Chile from multiple sources. The Chilean economy has cooled, and the increasing economic instability along with the government’s response has also contributed to fueling massive anti-government protests that have focused, among other things, on systemic inequality where previous economic success may have served to paper over the cracks. Further, continued refugee inflows from nearby Venezuela have also contributed to growing regional challenges that are enveloping Chile.

     
     

3. Ethiopia

For those observing Ethiopia on the FSI in recent years, it is easy to become victim to whiplash. In FSI 2017, Ethiopia was the most worsened country on the Index; only two years later in FSI 2019, Ethiopia was the most improved country on the Index. In what may be symbolic of the country’s roller-coaster ride of volatility, Ethiopia may be likely to be again among the most worsened countries in FSI 2020. Despite remarkable achievements by the administration of Abiy Ahmed — including the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize this year — the country is nevertheless beset by significant challenges, such as drought, continued large-scale internal ethnic conflict, the roll-back of some (previously lauded) political reforms, and even a coup attempt in June.

     
     

4. Mali

Mali is no stranger to the most fragile end of the FSI, and 2020 is expected to be no different. Mali’s severe worsening trend has continued largely unabated for much of the decade, with the country falling from the position of 79th in FSI 2012 to 21st in FSI 2019. In 2020, Mali’s position will likely worsen still as a result of further significant deterioration of security and a worsening of the country’s ethnic conflict.

     
     

5. Venezuela

Venezuela was one of the most worsened countries in FSI 2019, and the country is expected to again rank as one of the most worsened countries in FSI 2020. Certainly, this performance will likely come as a surprise to few — after all, the country has two presidents claiming legitimacy (and dividing international recognition), the refugee crisis has continued to worsen, the country’s food and health situation has reached a critical point, and hyperinflation has hit as high as 10,000,000%. In FSI 2013, Venezuela ranked 89th and had fallen to 32nd by FSI 2019. There is every chance that Venezuela’s FSI score is far from having bottomed-out.

 
 

Medium Confidence

The countries that, with a medium degree of confidence, we believe will be among the most worsened countries in FSI 2020 (note that, again, the countries are listed in alphabetical order, not order of anticipated ranking):

     

6. Bahamas

For some countries, their level of fragility may not be particularly high, but their ability to withstand shocks — their level of resilience — may make them particularly vulnerable to single events. The Bahamas has actually seen a strong improving trend over recent years, however the impact of Hurricane Dorian, which wreaked havoc across parts of the island nation, will have a significant and likely long-lasting impact on the country as its capacity is severely tested and its infrastructure will need to be rebuilt. In all likelihood, provided that the country is spared any further natural disasters in the short- to medium-term, the worsening of the Bahamas will be a temporary setback. Nevertheless, in FSI 2020 the force of Mother Nature will again demonstrate its ability to severely impact countries.

     
     

7. India

Not a stranger to regional and internal pressure, India has witnessed a year of severe tensions, both around the country’s national elections (wherein Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP was returned to power) and recent proposed ethnicity-based reforms to the country’s citizenship laws. Further, a crackdown in Kashmir has further served to inflame tensions in an already volatile region. These increasing tensions have also occurred against the backdrop of a cooling economy. A worsening in FSI 2020 will represent a reversal of fortune for the world’s second-most populous country, which had previously seen an improving trend.

     
     

8. Lebanon

After recovering from turmoil earlier in the decade, political instability — including mass anti-government protests leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri — is likely to see Lebanon figure among the most worsened countries of FSI 2020. Lebanon, which has a population of about 6.1 million is also host to over a million Syrian refugees, which adds political and economic pressure. With continuing regional challenges on multiple fronts, Lebanon consistently suffers from a ‘base line’ of instability, however these recent internal events are likely to undermine the country further and to continue to impede its long-term development.

     
     

9. Mozambique

Mozambique had already been recognized as one of the FSI’s most worsened countries of the past decade, however a series of events over the past year will likely serve to push Mozambique even further towards sustained fragility. The country saw increasing political instability, including a contested and controversial election (which also featured alleged Russian interference), and a renewed insurgency in the country’s north. Beyond instability of the country’s own making, Mozambique was also hit by two severe cyclones — Idai and Kenneth — that wreaked havoc on a country already suffering from low levels of capacity and resilience.

     
     

10. United Kingdom

The continuing political challenges in the United Kingdom, fueled largely but not exclusively by the circus that has become the country’s proposed exit from the European Union, or ‘Brexit’, will likely see the U.K. feature as the only developed European nation among the most worsened country in FSI 2020. The country has now witnessed years of mass demonstrations, and 2019 capped off this period of discontent with the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May, an attempted prorogation of Parliament her successor, Boris Johnson (referred to by some as a ‘constitutional coup’) and a fractious election that saw Johnson return to power with a strong mandate to finally take the country out of the E.U. Though the country’s exit from the Union is now expected to come soon, the country is not likely to recover from continued political or economic uncertainty for some time.

 
The 16th iteration of the Fragile States Index will be released in early April 2020. We look forward to seeing just how accurate our first attempt at early warning will turn out to be in identifying the most worsened countries for the year.
 
 

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