60 Worst Countries in the World
Postcards From Hell. Every year Foreign Policy and Fund For Peace make a list of 60 worst countries according to the score out of 177 countries. Score is assigned on the basis of health, political corruption, poverty & hunger etc… Lets have a look at this year most failed countries in the world.
There’s a reason Somalia has topped the Failed States Index for five years straight. Although the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government gained control of the capital, Mogadishu, last August after the hard-won withdrawal of the terrorist group al-Shabab, it still lacks control of large swaths of the country, including Somaliland and Puntland in the north. The Somali police are “generally ineffective,” while violence, piracy, and kidnappings are regular threats. Last year, one of the deadliest droughts in decades resulted in a famine that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands in the country, where 16 percent of the population was internally displaced in 2011 — the highest rate worldwide. African Union and Kenyan troops are working to help bring security to Somalia, and signs of growth in Mogadishu are offering a flicker of hope, while plans to pass a new constitution and elect a new president and prime minister later this summer offer a crucial test.
Here, a Somali boy sits in the ruins of what used to be the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Mogadishu on Aug. 18, 2011. Hundreds of Somalis set up temporary shelters inside the cathedral’s ruins after fleeing from their villages during the worst drought in the past 60 years.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Nine years after the official end of the Second Congo War, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held presidential elections in November 2011. But the chaotic voting, marred by violence, corruption, and instability, only underscored the fact that the country — where 1.7 million of the total 71 million residents are internally displaced persons — remains terrifyingly unstable. The winner of the polls, which were widely discounted by the international community, was Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the DRC since his father, the former president, was assassinated in 2001. Although Kabila may have clung to power, he by no means sits comfortably in the presidential palace. Former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, continues to conduct attacks against civilians and political opponents with impunity. His actions are only part of the epidemic of violence that plagues the country, particularly in the eastern region, which has been called the “rape capital of the world.”
Above, a bloodied supporter of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress is helped by a friend after clashes with police and army forces in Kinshasa, the capital, on Nov. 26, 2011. The supporters were waiting for the main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, who was not allowed to hold a rally in town.
The year 2011 saw the fragile state of Sudan literally break in two when South Sudan formally declared independence in July. The split between the two longtime rivals has not been a peaceful one, with numerous skirmishes over oil-producing regions along the border, a worsening internal refugee crisis as South Sudanese find themselves stranded in the north, and each side accusing the other of supporting internal rebel movements. Tensions came to a head in April of this year when the Khartoum regime launched airstrikes and sent ground troops over the border, and northern President Omar al-Bashir vowed to wipe out South Sudanese leaders, referring to them as “insects.” Analysts are now warning that a wider war looms.
Here, the shell of a vehicle that was hit by a bomb sits in front of the abandoned village of Trogi during fighting in the South Kordofan region along the border.
Chad’s fortunes appeared to improve in 2010, when President Idriss Déby and Bashir, his Sudanese counterpart, ended long-simmering hostilities between the two neighbors (the troubled Darfur region sits along their shared border). But 2011 — the 50th anniversary of Chad’s independence from France — brought more tumult. Déby secured a fourth term in a race that was boycotted by opposition parties, who accused the president’s party of rigging previous parliamentary elections. More recently, the impoverished central African nation experienced a food emergency as part of a larger crisis in the Sahel region. Journalist Steve Coll has described Chad, which became an oil-producing nation in 2003, as “a poster child for the resource curse.”
Above, women in colorful, flowing fabrics gather around a shared human and animal watering hole near Lake Chad.
Photo by Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images
After more than three decades of strongman Robert Mugabe’s misrule — punctuated by massacres, assassinations, and government-led campaigns against white farmers — Zimbabwe is in shambles. The country’s economy has deteriorated for much of the past decade, and in 2008 hyperinflation peaked at an annual rate that one economist calculated as the second highest in world history. Since then, the economy has begun to expand again, growing by an estimated 6 percent in 2011, but Zimbabwe remains politically fragile: Mugabe’s power-sharing arrangement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai remains more theory than reality. The country’s future, and how much worse it will sink on this list, depends largely on who will rule when the 88-year-old Mugabe dies.
Here, a poster of Mugabe hangs torn on a street-side wall in Bulawayo.
John Moore/Getty Images
From corruption and intrigue surrounding President Hamid Karzai’s rule to an unyielding reliance on the opium trade to being the world’s most hostile country for women, Afghanistan unquestionably checks just about every box for state failure. And that’s aside from the decade-long war that shows no signs of an immediate resolution, despite U.S. plans to withdraw troops as early as 2013. The chances of success for NATO’s upcoming security handover to the Afghans depend precariously on cooperation from Pakistan, as well as whether the Taliban — lately resurgent in the country’s north — can be contained. Afghanistan’s trajectory on the Failed States Index — where it has inched up from No. 11 in 2005 to No. 6 this year — unfortunately does not bode well.
In the above prize-winning photo, a girl screams while surrounded by the bodies of a suicide attack in Kabul on Dec. 6, 2011. More than 70 people lost their lives in the bombing.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
It’s been more than two years since a massive earthquake reduced much of this island nation to rubble, but the road to recovery remains a long one for Haiti. In May, musician-cum-president Michel Martelly, who was elected on a platform of sweeping reform and infrastructure development, marked one year in office. But his time in power has been marred by corruption scandals and plagued by political infighting and suggestions from critics that Martelly, better known as “Sweet Micky,” plans on setting himself up as a dictator. There could be some hope for future development: As foreign aid continues to dwindle, the country is attempting to rebrand itself as a tourist destination. Still, social, economic, and political unrest, paired with the the country’s enduring image as a disaster zone, have so far stymied the return of vacationers.
Here, a Haitian boy walks by the destroyed presidential palace on March 8, 2012, in Port-au-Prince. Tens of thousands of Haitians are still living in tent camps in and around the capital.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The 22-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally came to an end in November, when he agreed to step down amid widespread protests and escalating violence in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. But democracy hasn’t exactly flowered in Yemen, where only one candidate, former Vice President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was on the ballot in an election in February. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken advantage of the political chaos to seize several towns in the country’s south. The military has launched an all-out offensive to recapture the lost territory, and the United States has stepped up its strikes on al Qaeda targets.
Above, Yemeni soldiers ride on top of a pick-up truck near the town of Jaar, a jihadist stronghold north of the Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar, on May 30, 2012, as Yemeni forces continued their offensive against al Qaeda loyalists in the south.
Although overall levels of violence in Iraq have declined substantially from the peak of sectarian strife in 2006-2007, deadly bombings and shootings have repeatedly undermined security. The country’s brittle power-sharing arrangement was tested only days after the United States completed its troop withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges that he ran death squads. But Maliki, who recently sidestepped a no-confidence vote, has presided over some successes as well. Oil production is at its highest levels in decades, and Iraq’s GDP more than doubled between 2010 and 2011.
Above, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a news conference as a security guard stands by in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Maliki denounced a U.S. raid against a Shia militia that was carried out in Sadr City.
10. Central African Republic
When the Associated Press calls a nation “desperately poor” despite rich mineral deposits, adding that “armed bandits and insurgents roam the anarchic countryside”; when the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommends visitors avoid “non-essential” travel to most parts of the country’s territory, and the Lonely Planet calls it the “real” Africa because it’s so “underdeveloped, fragmented and poverty-stricken”; and when a Danish journalist can buy himself an ambassadorship to the country and uses it to satirize the absurd corruption that rends it — well, it sadly wasn’t a good year for progress in the Central African Republic.
Above, a woman walks in the rebel-held town of Kaga Bandoro in the country’s north.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
11. Ivory Coast
Last year was one of political upheaval and deadly violence for the Ivory Coast. Denying his defeat in the November 2010 presidential election, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo held fast to his seat for months, ordering security forces to kill some 3,000 people opposing him. Gbagbo finally ceded power the following April, when he was taken into custody by troops loyal to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, before the International Criminal Court charged him with crimes against humanity. Ouattara assumed the presidency, but the months of turbulence have left the country in economic distress; millions are unemployed due to sanctions against Gbagbo and a decline in foreign investment.
Above, a home in Grand Lahou, about 100 miles west of the capital Abidjan, on May 14, 2012. The house was once part of the city but is now being swallowed by the sea.
Less than two years ago, Guinea elected its first democratically chosen president — Alpha Condé, formerly an opposition leader who ran on a platform of reform — and just one year ago, Condé survived an assassination attempt by members of the armed services. Despite the rocky start for democracy in Guinea, the West African nation has continued to push forward with ambitious plans for development. Rich in mineral deposits (it has the world’s largest supply of bauxite, used to make aluminum), the Guinean government is attempting to increase its mining capabilities by opening the country’s first iron mine. It began production in June 2012, but Guinea’s expansion has already attracted attention for possible corruption. Britain’s Sunday Times reported that backroom deals threatened to divert millions of dollars in assets from companies investing in Guinea, even as the government tries to reform a mining industry that has been in chaos during the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Here, supporters of a Guinean opposition party clash with police as they protest against president Alpha Alpha Condé on May 10, 2012, in the capital city of Conkry.
The May 2, 2011, killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, along with the ongoing drone war on the Afghanistan border, kept Pakistan in international headlines last year. But the country also faced grave challenges on a number of other fronts, including assassinations, political intrigue, and natural disasters. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, an outspoken opponent of a controversial blasphemy law, was killed in January 2011. And targeted killings between rival political factions left hundreds dead in Karachi throughout the summer. The civilian government was further marginalized by the military following the bin Laden raid, culminating in the dramatic firing of the country’s ambassador to Washington after he reportedly warned of a possible “coup.”. And separatist violence continued to flare in the restive Balochistan province. Pakistan is currently locked in tense negotiations with NATO over supply routes into Afghanistan, which have been closed since 24 Pakistani troops were killed in a NATO airstrike in November.
Above, a Pakistani vendor talks on his phone as he walks down the middle of a railway track in Lahore on Jan. 5, 2012.
In April 2011, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria’s southern, oil-producing Niger Delta, resoundingly won what was arguably the country’s fairest presidential election ever. But he was immediately confronted with violent protests in the Muslim north that highlighted the deep ethnic, regional, and religious divisions in Africa’s most populous country. Now, Jonathan is grappling with violence from another source: the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009. The militants’ brazen attacks on everything from churches to the U.N.’s headquarters in Abuja coincided with mass protests across the country over the removal of fuel subsidies — an action the government later walked back.
Here, female students stand in a burnt classroom at Maiduguri Experimental School, a private school burnt by the Islamist group Boko Haram to discourage children from seeking education in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, on May 12, 2012.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GettyImages
Guinea-Bissau’s prime minister, Carlos Gomes Junior, said in September that he would welcome deposed Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi “with open arms.” He never had a chance; Qaddafi was killed in October, and Gomes himself was arrested while running for president this past April, after Guinea-Bissau suffered an all-too familiar coup. Coups have repeatedly racked the country over the past half-century: Since independence in 1974, not a single leader has finished his full term in office. In 2010, a drug kingpin who went by the name Rear Adm. José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto even helped staged a coup from the capital’s United Nations building.
Above, soldiers disperse a group of demonstrators in Bissau on April 14, 2012. Two days earlier, a group of Guinean soldiers attacked Junior’s residence and held various strategic points in the capital.
One of Africa’s most developed countries, Kenya sat at No. 34 on the Failed States Index back in 2006, but by 2010 it had climbed its way up to 13, following a contested 2007 presidential election that led to widespread ethnic and tribal violence. For the past two years, the country has stayed put at No. 16, coinciding with the approval of a new constitution in 2010 and the International Criminal Court pressing charges against the alleged organizers of the post-election violence. Still, Kenya’s entanglement in Somalia, where it sent thousands of troops last fall, has resulted in several attacks and kidnappings along the Kenya-Somali border, introducing new pressures in a country still struggling to recover from a half-decade of turbulence. Kenya also hosts the world’s largest refugee camp, teeming with Somali drought victims.
Above, a shoe lays next to a blood stain on the ground at a scene of the second explosion at a bus station in downtown Nairobi on Oct. 24, 2011. The attacks came a week after Kenya launched a military operation in Somalia to track down the militant group al-Shabab, which the country blamed for a series of kidnappings of foreigners.
If Ethiopians are looking for someone to blame for their three-spot leap on this year’s list, they might justifiably look to their neighbor to the east, Somalia. Continued instability in that country has had spillover effects in Ethiopia, which in 2011 sent troops across the Somali border in an effort to stem the rising influence of the al-Shabab movement. During the most intense period of a devastating combination of drought, famine, and instability in Somalia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that some 23,000 refugees were arriving each month in Ethiopia, straining resources. The drought also took its toll on the Ethiopian economy, which has experienced runaway growth in recent years but slowed slightly in 2011. While the Ethiopian government has moved to institute some reform in the agriculture sector — which employs 85 percent of workers and accounts for 41 percent of total output — those changes have been incremental at best and hardly sufficient to stand up to 2011’s record-breaking dry spell.
Here, a malnourished boy sits in front of a feeding center on June 10, 2008, in southern Ethiopia. Late rains in 2012 have put the country at risk for famine once again.
JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images
Considered a post-conflict success story following the end of civil war in 2000, Burundi has more recently been lurching dangerously back toward instability since a disputed election in 2010, which led several disgruntled political opposition groups to take up arms. The ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy, and a reconstituted rebel group, the National Liberation Forces, have attacked each other in a series of targeted killings. The country suffered its worst massacre in years this past September when 40 people were killed in an attack at a bar near the Congolese border. Journalists and civil society leaders have also faced persecution.
Here, the bodies of victims of armed raiders are lined up for identification on Sept. 19, 2011, in the capital city of Bujumbura. Raiders killed at least 36 people when they stormed a Burundi bar and opened fire on patrons in one of the country’s worst attacks in months.
Esdras Ndikumana/AFP/Getty Images
Mahamadou Issoufou’s victory in Niger’s March 2011 presidential elections marked the country’s return to civilian rule after a military coup a year earlier that ousted Mamadou Tandja, (who was released from prison after Issoufou, an opposition leader during Tandja’s 10-year rule, came to power). But the impoverished West African nation, a major uranium exporter, hasn’t been able to shake its long history of military intrigue since achieving independence from France in 1960. Last July, five soldiers were arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate Issoufou. Meanwhile, Niger is battling a food crisis, swarms of locusts, and the security threat posed by the rebel takeover in neighboring Mali.
Above, a Nigerien woman digs a trench to collect rainwater near the village of Tibiri in the southern Zinder region on May 28, 2012.
The world has taken note of late of Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord and leader of the apocalyptic, cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army. In October, U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to Uganda to bolster its fight against the LRA, and in March the activist group Invisible Children began a viral social media effort to raise awareness of his thousands of victims. The only problem? Although Kony certainly spread chaos throughout the Uganda in past years, he has since left and is thought to be hiding in the Central African Republic. Instead of warlords, the real threat to Uganda may be the spread of Nodding Disease, an incurable neurological affliction that affects thousands of children in the region. In the political arena, however, things are looking better. Since 2011, when Uganda’s long-serving president, Yoweri Museveni — who has held power since 1986 — crushed opposition to his latest election and quashed political protest, he has begun to give signals that he may eventually relinquish control.
Above, Ugandans watch a screening of Kony 2012 — Invisible Children’s film on the war criminal — in the Lira district of Uganda on March 13, 2012. The video, which garnered 78 million hits on YouTube in a matter of weeks, outraged some Ugandans, resulting in walkouts and stone throwing.
Although it has been under military rule since the 1960s, Myanmar is a rarity on the Failed States Index: a country showing strong, measurable signs of progress. Since his election in March 2011, President Thein Sein has freed hundreds of political prisoners, taken steps to open up the economy and lift restrictions on the press, and allowed a somewhat democratic vote in March that saw the election of longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament. The pace of change under Thein has been rapid, leading the United States to ease economic restrictions against Myanmar and even paving the way late last year for Hillary Clinton to be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country in more than half a century. Widespread poverty and a recent rash of sectarian violence, meanwhile, are reminders of serious obstacles that remain.
Here, Suu Kyi receives flowers from supporters on her way to a political rally at a stadium in Pathein on Feb. 7, 2012.
22. North Korea
For all its horrors, North Korea refuses to collapse. It survived the disintegration of its patron, the Soviet Union, in 1991; the death of its founder and dictator for 46 years, Kim Il Sung, in 1994; and the world’s worst famine in decades, which led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people. The year 2011 saw both the ascension of Kim Jong Un, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late December, as well as renewed questions about life inside the Hermit Kingdom. In the world’s most opaque country, information is scarce, but it appears that the North, desperately poor and inhumanly repressive, still has enough inertia to keep muddling through.
Above, mourners react as a car carrying Kim Jong Il’s body passes by during the funeral procession in Pyongyang on Dec. 28, 2011. Millions of apparently grief-stricken North Koreans turned out to mourn the late Dear Leader.
In December, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea, accusing the small East African country of supporting rebel groups in Somalia, including the al Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab. The government has also been criticized for using its compulsory “national service” system to force thousands of young Eritreans into labor. Journalists, labor unions, and political activists are frequently subject to arbitrary detention and torture. And an estimated 2,000 Eritrean refugees arrive in Sudan each month, hoping to claim asylum. Not for nothing is Eritrean often labeled “Africa’s North Korea.”
Here, Eritrean farmers herd a team of donkeys into the capital city of Asmara for the main weekly Saturday market on Nov. 3, 2007. The red and blue logo of U.S.-government food aid is a common sight in Eritrea. Donated grain sacks are re-stitched as popular shopping bags.
Syria is in the throes of a debilitating uprising that began as peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 and now features a (semi-)organized opposition, an armed rebellion, and signs that terrorist groups are exploiting the chaos. The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 people have died during the government’s relentless crackdown on the opposition despite a U.N.-brokered peace plan, and sectarian civil war appears to be just around the corner. The international community has reached a standstill about how to respond to the conflict, but sanctions imposed by Arab and Western countries have still managed to take an economic toll. In March, Syria’s oil minister claimed that the measures had blasted a $4 billion hole in the country’s economy. Look for Syria to leap up in the rankings next year.
Here, the Syrian flag flies next to a destroyed building in the Bab Amro neighborhood of Homs on May 2, 2012.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Africa’s first elected female head of state — is often celebrated by the international community. But her campaign for reelection this past fall, which she ultimately won in October, highlighted the criticism she has faced within her country; some accuse Johnson-Sirleaf of failing to crack down on corruption and foster economic growth, which continues to be hindered by high unemployment, illiteracy, poor health, and limited infrastructure. Although the Liberian economy has managed to rebuild modestly over the past decade, it is still recovering from the country’s 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003; the U.S. State Department estimates that about 68 percent of the total population lives below the poverty line today. In April of this year, Liberians watched as former president Charles Taylor, a key player behind the country’s deadly civil war, was sentenced in The Hague to 50 years of jail time for atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone during his rule.
Liberian incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, above, waves at supporters during a campaign meeting in Monrovia on Nov. 6, 2011, two days before the second round of the presidential election.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
In October 2011, Paul Biya, Cameroon’s incumbent president and uninterrupted ruler since 1982, won yet another landslide victory in an election tainted by allegations of electoral fraud. Any hopes that the sentiments of the Arab Spring might migrate southward to Cameroon were firmly quashed by the Biya administration, which imposed a crackdown on dissidents and the opposition in the run-up to the election. And as Biya’s rule continues undisturbed, so does a massive cholera outbreak that began in 2010 and has showed little signs of slowing down. Cholera, a disease that spreads largely as a result of poor sanitation systems, speaks volumes about current conditions in Cameroon, where more than a third of children suffer from stunted growth as a result of poor nutrition and 13.6 percent of children will die before the age of five.
Here, a hunter in the Cameroon jungle heads out to check traps on July 26, 2011. He is collecting blood smaples from animals for Dr. Nathan Wolfe, founder of a company that seeks to predict and prevent pathogen threats.
Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images
Sandwiched between India and China, impoverished, mountainous Nepal has long been a proxy battleground for influence among those powers, often cracking down on Tibetan refugees at the behest of its neighbor to the north. Nepal’s biggest problem is that it just can’t seem to form a government. A 2008 power-sharing agreement appointed Prachanda (“the Fierce One”), the head of the Maoist rebel group, as the country’s prime minister, but he resigned a year later when the president sacked his army chief. As recently as May, another attempt at forming a legislature failed; meanwhile, Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.
Supporters of the Maoist Unified Communist Party of Nepal, above, take part in a torch rally in Kathmandu on Sept. 2, 2011. Nepal’s former rebel Maoists handed over thousands of weapons five years after the civil war ended in a move seen as an important part of the nation’s troubled peace process.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
28. East Timor
East Timor celebrated its first decade of independence this past May. Although the new nation’s early years were characterized by political infighting and ethnic conflict, things were a bit more stable in 2011, and U.N. peacekeepers, who are planning to pull out of the country at the end of 2012, have already handed over most security responsibilities to local forces. Human rights groups, meanwhile, have criticized East Timor for failing to prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses during the country’s war for independence. Despite impressive economic growth, the country’s economy remains almost entirely dependent on oil exports. A general election in July will be a major test of whether this young country can escape the legacy of its violent birth.
Above, an East Timorese vendor waits for customers in Dili, the capital, on April 24, 2012.
Politics in Bangladesh have long been dominated by a bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and the resulting political volatility has manifested itself in many ways in this impoverished, densely populated South Asian country. Last year, clashes erupted between police and protesters after the government scrapped a system in which neutral caretaker governments oversaw general elections. More recently, the army announced it had foiled a coup plot by Islamist military officers against Hasina’s government, and deadly protests and general strikes over the disappearance of an opposition leader paralyzed the country. Still, Bangladesh has managed strong, if faltering, economic growth amid the political jousting.
A Bangladeshi activist, above, attends a procession to mark International Workers Day in Dhaka on May 1, 2012.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
Sri Lanka’s economy grew at an estimated 8.3 percent clip in 2011, buoyed by a peace dividend, as investors and tourists returned to this island nation after its 26-year civil war finally ended in May 2009. But ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, supported by India, still rankle. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, a Sinhalese, has claimed that it “never targeted innocent civilians,” but human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the brutal last few months of fighting.
Above, a Sri Lankan man walks past a painting in Colombo depicting the recent war between the Army and Tamil guerrillas.
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
One year ago, Egypt was at the forefront of the Arab Spring as a popular protest movement ended 30 years of autocratic rule by former President Hosni Mubarak. Today, Mubarak has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the deaths of protesters during the movement, and Egypt recently completed the first free elections in the country’s history. But these rosy developments are far from the whole story. The elections led to what many revolutionaries have called a “nightmare scenario”: a runoff between Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood — hardly a choice the liberal protest organizers welcome.
At the same time, Egypt continues to face an economic crisis exacerbated in part by the revolution, with youth unemployment reaching 30 percent and the tourist industry continuing to struggle. Protesters have headed back to the iconic Tahrir Square and other hotspots time and again, often met with violence from the military and police forces. Whether Egypt’s new government can bring economic and political stability without sacrificing the gains of the revolution remains to be seen.
Above, anti-Mubarak demonstrators pose in front of a mock gallows while riot police provide security outside a court in Cairo on Feb. 22, 2012, as the landmark murder and corruption trial of the former president entered its final day of hearings.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
31. Sierra Leone
Although Sierra Leone has achieved relative political stability since a brutal civil war ended in 2002, its weak economy is still recovering from the 11-year conflict, which killed tens of thousands of people. The West African country, which has improved by 14 spots on the Failed States Index since 2006, has also shown signs of healing. A government policy in recent years to waive medical fees for women and children has dramatically increased the number of children getting health care and decreased mortality rates. And this past May, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for planning and abetting atrocities committed by rebels in Sierra Leone during the civil war.
Here, a boy drinks water from a tap on April 28, 2012 in a new town built in Koidu, capital of the diamond-rich Kono district.
33. Republic of the Congo
Although security has improved since the end of a bloody civil war in 1999, the country also known as Congo-Brazzaville remains plagued by corruption, poverty, and the spillover of instability from neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In January 2012, Congo-Brazzaville finalized plans to repatriate more than 120,000 DRC refugees; thousands more had arrived in December, fleeing post-election violence next door. In March 2012, an explosion at an arms depot in Brazzaville destroyed several buildings and killed hundreds. A cholera epidemic then broke out among the homeless survivors of the blast. Congo-Brazzaville has also been identified by the United Nations as a major source and destination of child trafficking
Here, two locals pass the remains of damaged buildings nearly a week after a massive series of explosions in the Mpila suburb of Brazzaville on March 10, 2012.
The West’s tough sanctions over the country’s nuclear program have inflicted much of the country’s economic pain this year. (In fact, the International Monetary Fund raised eyebrows in 2011 by praising Iran’s economic reforms in a report.) But inflation and high unemployment were already present last year, and human rights abuses and political infighting added to domestic instability. Riot police and pro-government militia fighters battled with protesters as the Arab Spring got underway in February 2011, in a brief reminder of the mass protests that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009. And a power struggle between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exposed deep rifts between Iran’s conservative leaders.
Ahmadinejad, above, delivers a speech under a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on June 3, 2011.
Rwanda’s feisty president, Paul Kagame, would likely disagree with the designation of his country as a failed state. Perhaps he would point to the 8.2 percent growth rate in 2011, his business-friendly policies, or the statistic that 56 percent of parliamentarians in Rwanda are female — the highest rate in the world. But almost two-thirds of the population still lives below the poverty line. On top of that, Kagame, who has been in office since 2000, won the 2010 election with a questionable 93 percent of the vote. For all his economic success, domestic and international observers worry about his growing dictatorial tendencies, as well as his role in the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people.
Here, a police officer patrols the street in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, on Aug. 10, 2010.
Impoverished and suffering from one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates, Malawi nonetheless had seen a decade of relative stability, buoyed by former President Bingu wa Mutharika’s program to boost agricultural production through fertilizer subsidies. That calm was shaken last year, when protesters, spurred by fuel shortages, rising prices, and high unemployment rates, took to the streets in July, and security forces loyal to Mutharika retaliated violently, killing 19 people. Mutharika died suddenly this past April of a heart attack, and his vice president, Joyce Banda, assumed the presidency according to democratic process — a sign, one can hope, of a return to more stable times.
Here, a woman walks home with her firewood and child on July 13, 2011, in Chinkota village.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Last year saw the beginning of the trial of three senior members of the Khmer Rouge, accused of their involvement in the deaths of nearly one-quarter of Cambodia’s population under Pol Pot in the late 1970s. The shadow of the Khmer Rouge regime still looms over Cambodia; the country’s nearly three-decade-serving prime minister Hun Sen is himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, as are many high-ranking members of his government. Hun’s cronyism is one of the reasons Cambodia was ranked one of the 20 countries with the highest perceived level of corruption in 2011.
Above, a Cambodian solider guards the grounds of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on Feb. 8, 2011 in Preah Vihear. Thousands of refugees had fled the area after clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops near the disputed World Heritage site.
Mauritania is still reeling from the 2008 military coup that overthrew the country’s first ever democratically elected government. Coup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz continues to rule, having won an election in 2009. Mauritania saw protests in the early days of the Arab Spring, including self-immolations like those in Algeria and Tunisia, but they never erupted into mass demonstrations. The Mauritanian military continued to clash with al Qaeda-linked militants in the country’s western desert and in June 2011 crossed the border to attack targets in neighboring Mali. Mauritania was the world’s last country to abolish slavery, in 1981, but the practice remains rampant, with at least 10 percent of the population living in bondage, according to U.N. estimates.
Above, a Bedouin takes water from a well near Nema, southeastern Mauritania, on May 4, 2012. Mali’s March 22 military coup and the subsequent seizure of half the country by rebels have compounded the already worrying effects of a food crisis across West Africa’s Sahel region.
Togo, a narrow strip of land in West Africa, began implementing democratic reforms in the early 1990s. But its democratic institutions have been repeatedly compromised, perhaps never more so than in 2005, when a bloody succession crisis followed the death of Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the country for nearly four decades. Power has since passed to Eyadema’s son, Faure Gnassingbe, whose security forces clashed violently with opposition protesters in spring 2011 over the government’s attempts to regulate public protests and revise the constitution. Last September, Gnassingbe’s half-brother was sentenced to 20 years in prison for plotting a coup.
Here, a Togolese security force turns away from protesters on March 7, 2010, in Lome.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
41. Burkina Faso
President Blaise Compaoré doesn’t have much to show for 25 years of rule in Burkina Faso, where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line and the life expectancy is a mere 54 years, among the lowest in the world. But after the Arab Spring spread throughout much of North Africa and the Middle East last year, residents in the capital of Ouagadougou launched a short-lived revolt in the streets that drew local business owners, students, and even members of the military, police, and presidential guard to protest rising food prices and low wages. More than a year later, the riots have subsided, and the president has managed to hold fast to his power.
A child laborer, above, rests in her farmer’s storeroom after carrying a large bushel of organic cotton from a field almost a mile down the road near Benvar on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. Child labor is endemic to the production of Burkina Faso’s chief crop export.
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Since 2010, Kyrgyzstan has lived under the cloud of violent ethnic clashes that sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the southern part of the country. The legacy of that conflict remains, with thousands still stranded away from their homes and requiring government services. The Central Asian nation rang in 2012 shortly after the election of a new president, Almazbek Atambayev — previously the country’s prime minister — in a “peaceful and largely democratic” election, no small accomplishment for a country that has been through two coups in less than a decade. Atambayev is charting a more pro-Russia course for the former Soviet republic: In the spring of 2012, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Kyrgyzstan, the Atambayev government made it clear it wants the Manas airport, a major U.S. military transportation base for Afghanistan, turned over to strictly civilian uses when the current U.S. lease expires in 2014.
Here, children play among ruins near the town of Osh on June 11, 2011.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
43. Equatorial Guinea
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s assumption of the rotating presidency of the African Union did little to improve political conditions in a country that remains desperately poor, despite oil wealth that gives it a higher GDP per capita than much larger countries such as China, Russia, and South Africa. More than 100 political opponents were rounded up by Obiang’s security forces in the run-up to an AU summit in Malabo last June. Despite widespread corruption and human rights abuses in Africa’s fourth-largest oil exporter, the U.S. government continues to enjoy cordial relations with Obiang — depicted as a statue in Malabo above — who is now the continent’s longest-serving ruler following the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi. Obiang’s notoriously high-flying son, Teodorin, was taken down a notch last year when French police seized 11 of his supercars in Paris as part of a criminal investigation, and he is facing a U.S. indictment by the Justice Department as well — despite being elevated to vice president by his father.
Zambia, Africa’s largest copper producer, enjoys more political stability than its neighbours in southern Africa. Last September, Michael Sata, a labor leader who vowed to protect workers from exploitation by the many Chinese companies in the country, was elected president in a peaceful transfer of power. But the government is still grappling with secession demands in western Zambia, as well as widespread poverty and disease. In 2010, the United Nations noted that Zambia’s score on the Human Development Index had actually decreased since 1970, largely due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Above, police officers beat opposition demonstrators during a protest against the suspension of top judges in Lusaka on June 6, 2012.
This tiny country has it all: excellent food, stunning beaches, great skiing just a few hours’ drive away from one of the world’s largest extant Roman ruins. Unfortunately, it also has a messy dispute with Israel; the powerful, armed religious organization Hezbollah, which runs swathes of the country and allies itself with imploding neighbor Syria; and a population so dividedly pluralistic that there’s no consensus on whose face to put on the money. As uprisings knocked down leaders across the Arab world last year, Lebanon suffered as a proxy battleground across all sorts of Middle Eastern fault lines. But its own political system has been so combustible for so long, 2011 didn’t even seem that strange.
Above, Shiite Muslim demonstrators block the Mar Mikhael road at the entrance of Beirut’s southern suburbs in protest against the kidnapping of 13 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in the Syrian northern province of Aleppo on May 22, 2012.
This poor, authoritarian Central Asian state is rife with government corruption and barely supports its economy through drug-trafficking and labor exported to Russia. In recent years, the rise of radical Islam has led the Tajik government to crack down on observant Muslims, even monitoring Friday services and, last June, banning children under 18 from attending them. Tajikistan has also seen an uptick in violent clashes along its border with war-torn Afghanistan — tensions that could escalate further following the forthcoming U.S. troop drawdown.
A Tajik villager, above, jumps over an irrigation ditch at a cotton field in Yangiabad on Oct. 26, 2006.
47. Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands represent the front lines in the fight to mitigate the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten several key industries for the sprawling Pacific island nation that heavily depends on agriculture and forestry, both of which may suffer from increasing soil salinity. The Solomon Islands have been pummeled by earthquakes in recent years, including at least four major quakes in 2011.The country has also suffered from chronic political instability during the past decade, with six different leaders since 2006. From 1998 to 2003 — the so-called “tension years” — the Solomon Islands were wracked by a civil war. And while an Australian led peacekeeping force has managed to keep a lid on the violence, the country’s turbulent politics have showed no signs of quieting.
Here, a local looks out over the ocean from a destroyed church in the outskirts of Gizo Island, which was hit by a tsunami in April 2007.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Laos is the world’s smallest communist state by population. (It’s slightly bigger than Cuba.) Mostly ignored by the world’s media, the country contains in miniature the same muzzling of the press, intolerance of dissidents, and sham elections as its officially communist neighbors of China to the north and Vietnam to the east. Still, the government does allow some leeway: The land devoted to growing opium increased by 38 percent in 2011, according to the United Nations.
Above, a Laotian fisherman casts his net in the Mekong river in the capital Luang Prabang on May 4, 2012.
Angola, China’s biggest African supplier of crude oil, is flush with cash from oil and diamonds, and the country is leveraging that wealth — and Chinese loans — to finance a construction boom following a devastating 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. (The capital, Luanda, is one of the most expensive cities in the world.) But Angola is also one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries — a dichotomy that has fueled repeated allegations of government corruption. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who assumed power in 1979, is one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers, and in 2011 Human Rights Watch accused his government of intimidating protesters. General elections in August could spark more turmoil.
Here, an Angolan carries garbage on Sept. 9, 2008, collecting recyclable material to make a living at one of the largest municipal dumps in Luanda.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Muammar al-Qaddafi’s three-decade rule over Libya came to a dramatic and bloody end in a drainage ditch near the city of Sirte this year, when the cagey and often eccentric dictator was brought down by an uprising of his own people aided in no small part by NATO airpower. The country has entered a period of political uncertainty under the presumably temporary rule of the rebel National Transitional Council. In early-2012 and mid-2012, tribal violence in Libya’s remote southeast has claimed dozens of lives. The ramifications of the removal of Qaddafi — Africa’s self-styled “king of kings” — has been felt beyond Libya’s borders as well, with guns and returning fighters flooding North Africa and contributing to the instability in nearby Mali.
Above, Libyans visit Sirte’s damaged cemetery on Nov. 10, 2011. At the time, fewer than 5 percent of the residents of Qaddafi’s former stronghold had returned to their homes.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
After a 2008 conflict with Russia over control of disputed border territories, Georgia’s place on the Failed States Index worsened 23 points between 2008 and 2009, from 56 to 33. Since then, it has nearly regained its (still somewhat unstable) footing. After taking power in a bloodless revolution in 2003, President Mikheil Saakashvili — a Western-educated reformer and U.S. ally — has worked to build up his country’s long-suffering post-Soviet economy and wipe out government corruption. In turn, the Georgian economy grew at a 6.8 percent rate last year, and the country jumped from 133rd best to 64th on Transparency International’s corruption index between 2004 and 2011. Still, high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as claims that Saakashvili has failed to fulfill the democratic promises he made upon taking power, led thousands of Georgians to take part in anti-government protests in May of last year.
Here, a displaced Georgian woman stands by a road on Aug. 16, 2008 just outside the town of Gori, Georgia.
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Colombia has come a long way since the near-civil war conditions of the 1990s, but it is still not entirely stable. Human rights groups documented scores of extrajudicial killings by elements of Colombian security forces acting independently. Paramilitary groups continued to pray on indigenous people in rural regions, killing dozens. While substantially diminished, the FARC rebels show they are still capable of high-profile actions, including the kidnapping of a French journalist earlier this year. More than half a million Colombian refugees are still living abroad, while there are more than 4 million internally displaced people within the country.
Here, a prostitute stands on the street in Cartagena on April 19, 2012.
MANUEL PEDRAZA/AFP/Getty Images
Bordering Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and just a short hop over the water from Yemen, Djibouti is located right the middle of one of the world’s most unstable regions. But it has managed to remain relatively stable — if increasingly authoritarian — compared with its neighbors. February saw mass demonstrations in the capital against President Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose family has ruled since the country’s independence in 1977. Nonetheless, Guelleh was reelected with 80 percent of the vote in April, with the opposition boycotting and amid crackdowns against opposition and civil society groups. Djibouti hosts the largest U.S. military presence in Africa, and its key role in both anti-piracy operations and strikes on militant targets in Yemen may make the international community reluctant to criticize Guelleh’s government.
A Djiboutian woman with her donkeys, above, look for pastures in Garabtisan on Aug. 17, 2011. The village, located in the middle of a harsh desert of sun-baked gray rocks in northern Djibouti, is prone to extreme drought.
54. Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby is not the world’s most dangerous city, but it’s close; the carjacking, violent crime, and murder rates there led the Economist Intelligence Unit to rank Port Moresby the world’s third least livable city in 2011. If the scandal that added to PNG’s 2011 political crisis — in which two rival sets of prime ministers and cabinets both claimed power — was not already bizarre enough, police found the body of a 29-year-old waitress in the home of Prime Minister Sam Abal. They were alerted by a security guard who claimed he heard the woman scream and 20 minutes later reported that Abal’s adopted, unemployed son had told him “that he had killed the woman and left her body in the banana garden.” PNG’s 6.2 million people speak more than 800 languages, and civil war is always seemingly a spark away in this fractured nation.
Above, children jump over a dirty drain at Daru in Papua New Guinea on Aug. 17, 2011. Tuberculosis and cholera have killed hundreds of people on the island in recent years.
Jason South/The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, rules Swaziland with an iron fist. Swazi police cracked down on a pro-democracy demonstration in April 2011, and the government more recently moved to snuff out critics on Facebook and Twitter. The royal family lives lavishly, while the king’s subjects struggle with widespread poverty, the world’s highest HIV infection rate, and, in 2011, a crippling budget crisis. When 2,000 people marched to the prime minister’s office a year ago to voice their frustration with the economic crisis, the king had a message for them: “Work harder and sacrifice more.”
Here, the king watches young virgins at a traditional reed-dance ceremony at the stadium at the Royal Palace on August 30, 2009, in Ludzidzini. About 80,000 virgins from all over the country attended this yearly event, the biggest in Swazi culture. It was founded to celebrate the beauty of Swazi women and girls.
The world’s 12th most populous country, with some 100 million people, the Philippines has grown rapidly in recent years. Its economy withstood the global recession better than most in 2008 and 2009, rising to a 7.6 percent growth rate in 2010 before falling to 3.7 percent in 2011. But the wealth has been slow to trickle down, and in fact, the poverty rate increased between 2003 and 2009, from 24.9 to 26.5 percent, or more than 3 million people. Poor governance is at least in part to blame. On that front, unpopular former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested in November on charges of tampering with the results of a 2007 congressional election and appeared in court this past February.
Above, residents try to salvage recyclable materials from what used to be houses in the aftermath of a massive fire that engulfed hundreds of makeshift houses in a shanty town community in Tondo district on May 12, 2012 in Manila. Up to 10,000 people were left homeless.
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Since achieving independence from France in 1975, Comoros has seen no fewer than 20 coups or attempted coups. Political instability continued in 2011 as the opposition accused the ruling party of widespread electoral fraud in the December 2011 presidential contest. This time, however, the parties took the conflict to the country’s Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the winner of that contest, Ikililou Dhoinine. One of the world’s poorest countries, Comoros has experienced paltry economic growth rates recently and its economy remains highly dependent on agriculture and fishing.
A goat, above, eats garbage piled up in the old port city of Moroni on Grande Comore Island. Since its independence from France in 1975, the Union of the Comoros has experienced more than 20 coups d’état or attempted coups d’état and half the population lives under the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.
Despite the international and regional sanctions imposed after he took power in a military-backed coup in 2009, President Andry Rajoelina continues to cling to power. The government put down another attempted coup by the military in late 2010. Seventy percent of Madagascar’s population lives below the poverty line, with the economic distress only exacerbated by sanctions. In January 2012, ousted president Marc Ravalomanana was rebuffed in an attempt to return to the country.
Supporters of Antananarivo Mayor Andry Rajoelina, above, run from tear-gas following a rally in the main avenue of the Madagascan capital on Feb. 16, 2009.
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Bhutan’s fourth “dragon king” coined the term “gross national happiness” in 1972 as the priority for his small, isolated Himalayan kingdom, and PBS ran a documentary about the country, calling it “The Last Shangri-La.” But all this happy talk masks an authoritarian streak: Bhutanese are reportedly required to wear their national dress outside during daylight hours, cigarettes are illegal, and tens of thousands of ethnic Nepali Bhutanese citizens have fled to Nepal because of persecution.
Above, a Bhutanese woman looks out from her home next to a portrait of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Ashi Jetsun Pema Wangchuck as Bhutan prepares for the royal wedding on Oct. 12, 2011, in Thimphu, the capital.
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
The year 2011 brought good news for Mozambique on a number of fronts. The government unveiled new anti-graft measures (though government corruption continues to be a problem), and the United Nations reported that the HIV epidemic in the country was “levelling off, albeit at unacceptably high levels.” But serious problems remain. In May, the International Monetary Fund noted that Mozambique’s economic growth, fueled by largely untapped mineral wealth, is leaving the country’s poor (more than half of the adult population) behind and primarily benefiting foreign investors. A WikiLeaks cable in late 2010, meanwhile, warned that Mozambique was becoming a drug trafficking hub.
Above, a young Mozambican protester stands near a burning car on a Maputo street on Sept. 2, 2010.
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