The current issue, July/August, of the American magazine Foreign Policy, carries its perennially controversial Failed States Index.
East Africa and the wider region once again do badly.
The Failed States Index is quite a crude measure. Foreign Policy seems to acknowledge that, and has published a muscular, albeit emotional, rebuttal of the Index from the “Africa is a Country” website titled “The failed index from hell”.
That said the Index, which lists 60 countries, is still food for thought. The most failed state in the world is, of course, Somalia. It is followed by DR Congo, Sudan, Chad, and Zimbabwe.
There are three clusters of 20. The worst 20 include three East African states — Kenya is the poorest performer at 16, Burundi does two better at 18, and Uganda is a notch better at 19.
Rwanda is outside the worst class, coming in the next just bad 20 at 35. The good news is that Tanzania is not considered to be in peril, and does not appear in the 60.
I think our countries perform poorly for two reasons. One is cake. Who shares out the national cake; how he gets to the position to be Chief Cake Sharer (does he win elections fairly or cheat?); who gets how much cake; and whether those who don’t get anything have the freedom to complain or to ask for their share. Any country that sorts out those issues will smell good.
The second issue is milk. Or rather breasts. Let us explain. The biggest social event in Uganda is the Annual Goat Race in Kampala. It is the most sought after ticket, and people dress their best or their most outrageous to catch photographers’ attention and get into Kampala’s lively gossip and social press.
The Goat Race has women showing more cleavage and open-back dresses than any other event in Uganda. The social freedom they express is admirable.
Recently the goat race has acquired a rival — the dog show. It is very promising. The Kampala goat race is the equivalent of the Kenya Derby, the country’s biggest horse race, and the Wine and Blankets music events wrapped into one.
Unlike Burundi that is still recovering from war, Kenya and Uganda have a few things they do right. So what do horse and goat races have to do with their places in the top 20 of the Index?
Some years ago I went to Denmark’s leading cattle show. It was incredible. I understood why Denmark’s dairy industry is in the world’s top five.
There were thousands of people, and cows with udders the size of a Ugandan village hut, with a single one producing more milk than 100 scrawny Kenyan ones combined.
Since then, I have harboured this totally unscientific sense that any time you see more photos of half-exposed breasts of women at goat and horse races in an African country, and never that of a giant udder at a cattle show, it is likely that that country does not produce enough cake.
Or if it does (and Kenya and Uganda try), it does not distribute it fairly. It is therefore likely to be in the Failed States Index’s top 20.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cobbo3