BEIRUT – From conflict, mass displacement and gun violence to famine and natural disasters, a scan of the major international news headlines of 2017 does not point to increasing global stability. However, the numbers in this year’s annual Fragile State Index (FSI) tell a more optimistic story.
Roughly 85 percent of the 178 states evaluated have a lower fragility score in this year’s index, created by the Fund for Peace, than in 2017, indicating a slight increase in global stability. Only 22 states have a higher overall score, which, according to the data, means they have become more vulnerable.
The FSI assesses the fragility of a country using 12 social, economic, cohesion and political indicators. Each country is given a score out of 10 for each indicator. Overall scores are then tallied to get a global view of fragility across pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict countries. These are then added to calculate a country’s overall fragility. In other words, the index measures each state’s instability and how vulnerable it is to collapse.
However, some of the results may appear contradictory if they are not understood in the context of the major issues and developments each country has undergone over the past year, and its initial level of instability. The countries with most improved overall scores this year, for example, are also among those ranked as the most fragile states.
Perhaps the most telling example of this in the 2018 FSI is Haiti. Haiti is the most improved country in the 2018 index as its overall fragility score dropped by 3.3 points compared to 2017, and 3.8 points over a long-term five-year trend, according to the FSI. However, Haiti also ranked the 12th most fragile country in the 2018 index (a one-place improvement over its 11th place last year).
The country’s infrastructure is still in abysmal condition and, though its economy has slowly been recovering since the devastating earthquake in January 2010, it “remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” according to IndexMundi. More than 98 percent of Haitians have been exposed to two or more types of disasters, according to the World Health Organization.
Haiti’s economic recovery was briefly stalled in 2012 after two hurricanes hit the country, and again in 2015 and 2016, due to a number of factors, including political uncertainty, drought and another devastating hurricane.
However, according to the FSI, the economy began to improve again over the past year. All three economic indicators (economic decline; economic inequality; and brain drain and human flight) saw improved scores compared to 2017.
The Heritage Foundation 2018 Freedom Index (FI) also noted an improvement in Haiti’s economy, particularly when it comes to trade freedom. Imports and exports make up 72 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the FI findings. The World Bank recorded a 1.1 percent GDP growth from 2017 to 2018, and has forecast a 2.5 percent growth by 2019.
New international trade agreements have partially facilitated the return of textile manufacturing to Haiti and the country’s top exports are now knit T-shirts and knit sweaters. U.S. legislation allows duty-free entry for textile goods from Haiti, under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act and the May 2010 Haitian Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act. In 2016, U.S. imports of knit and woven apparel goods totaled nearly $850 million.
What’s more, in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haiti also began looking to Asia for foreign investment, opening a new source for textile imports and hub for manufacturing. In 2011, South Korean Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. announced it would bring roughly 20,000 jobs to Haiti’s garment industry by signing on to a U.S. project to build an industrial park for a garment mill.
With the arrival of foreign companies comes the incentive for investment to strengthen infrastructure. For example, textile manufacturing factories need electricity for production, at the very least. While there is opportunity for growth, progress on this front has been slow, largely due to corruption and the initial state of the country’s infrastructure.
Zooming in on Haiti’s scores for cohesion indicators (factionalized elites; security apparatus; and group grievance), the data tells us that state institutions are extremely fragmented and divided. In fact, this year’s score for factionalized elites (9.6) is as high as it was in 2006, when the country was recovering from an armed rebellion that ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
However, group grievance, which measures “divisions and schisms between different groups in society,” has been steadily improving and this year Haiti saw its best score yet (6.2). This indicator looks at a country through a number of lenses, including equal distribution of resources, accountability for crimes and group oppression.
It may seem contradictory that while state institutions are at their most factionalized, Haitian society is at its most cohesive. However, this discrepancy must be looked at within the context of changes that have happened over several years. In other words, the score is not a leap, but a slow climb.
While accountability is still low in Haiti, there have been some slight changes in recent years. For example, former president Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to the country in 2011 after 25 years in exile. He was accused of carrying out “financial and human rights crimes” during his time as president between 1971 and 1986. In 2012, a Haitian court found that he could not be charged for the latter as the statute of limitations had passed, according to Human Rights Watch. In 2014, however, a historic ruling from the Port-of-Prince Court of Appeal reinstated the charges. Duvalier died before he was brought to trial, but the investigation into his collaborators remained open but pending.
It remains unclear if Haiti will manage to continue this slow but steady increase across cohesion and economic indicators next year. For example, cohesion could be particularly at risk after the Haitian Senate passed a bill in August 2017 calling for a ban on gay marriage and on public support for LGBT rights, according to HRW.
These examples only scratch the surface of Haiti’s transition in recent years, but they do provide a framework for analysis that is essential to understanding FSI’s country-specific and global data in the context of developments on the ground. As the partnership between News Deeply and the Fund for Peace continues in the coming months, this framework will help unpack the FSI findings and bring understanding of a world in which the United States is in the top 10 worsened countries and Haiti is the most improved.