08 August 2005

The Annual Country Rankings! Part IV

As it is the largest grouping of countries, I break the third world down into six regional subgroups. Today we’ll discuss Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

There are seven African third world states; aside from Mauritius, all other African states are considered failing. This is rather depressing. Even among the third world African states, things are not particularly sunny.
Ghana is just coming off spillover problems from the civil wars that have affected almost every country bordering it (the lone exception being dreadfully poor Burkina Faso, who’s people don’t have enough money to fight a civil war), and though it was once the shining light of West Africa it’s light has dimmed somewhat; it scores just 268 points, barely qualifying for the third world. The country’s government is stable, reasonably democratic and only moderately corrupt, and personal liberties are wide-ranging for Africa. However, literacy, life expectancy, and infant mortality are all significantly worse than the third world average. GDP growth is just barely keeping ahead of population growth (though that number has come down a great deal in the last few years). Surrounded by strife and poverty (and containing a fair bit of those itself), Ghana can either become an island of growth and stability or slip back to join its failing neighbors. Ghana is, thus, an example of a country that would very definitely deserve targeted official development aid, but we tend to send most of that aid to other countries in the region that are not equipped to make use of it.
Equatorial Guinea is not much better off than Ghana (scoring 294), but differs from Ghana in that it has a horribly repressive and corrupt despot at the head of its government and virtually no personal freedoms at all. The country stays afloat on the basis of its significant oil and natural gas wealth, but that money does not trickle down to the average Equatoguinean in the street. Official development aid that goes to EG tends to be pocketed by the government.
The remaining African third world states are Gabon, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, all of which are significantly richer than the other two. Gabon survives on oil wealth and appears rich only because it has such a small population; desperately needed government and economic reforms are probably decades away, after the passing of the country’s only president to date, Omar Bongo.
The other countries are part of the southern African cone of development, which used to include Zimbabwe until Robert Mugabe went insane and destroyed the place. Swaziland is firmly in the third world, but South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia are all rich, stable, democratic, and have good literacy rates and growing economies. However, these are among the countries worst hit by AIDS; Swaziland this year took from Botswana the dubious title of Country With The Highest Rate Of AIDS Infection; all but South Africa have rates over 30% (SA is slightly lower). The high rate of AIDS infection screws up most other population numbers: the median age in these countries is in the teens (which is common among failed states), and life expectancy numbers range from a high of 43.9 in Namibia to a low of 33.9 in Botswana.
It is these low numbers that keep these countries in the third world, but the numbers aren’t fully accurate. Residents of southern Africa who avoid the AIDS plague—and that’s about 2/3 of them—live well into their 60s and 70s. But many of those born with the disease—almost a fifth of live births in these countries—don’t reach adulthood, and those who do are nearly always orphaned by that time and cannot afford the drugs that will keep them alive much longer. Without question, AIDS is the single biggest problem in southern Africa, and in numerous other third world and failing states; no amount of development aid will correct this problem unless it is specifically targeted to AIDS prevention, but it rarely is.

Asia has 12 third world countries. As I mentioned yesterday, they run the gamut. The wealthiest by a wide margin is Kazakhstan, which has a vast territory, small population, and huge amount of natural gas. Whether the government will use that resource for good or ill is quite up in the air.
Next on the list in China, and below China are a number of countries that are several years away from scoring high enough to escape to third world, if any of them could do so even with the right score. Asia is not a continent with notably good government. The Phillippines have a democracy of sorts, but stability is not a concept frequently associated therewith. Sri Lanka has a strong democracy, but a seemingly intractable civil war. Papua New Guinea just concluded a civil war, but with a score of only 267 and virtually no GDP growth it’s hard to see what might spark the place to develop. Kyrgyzstan has recently overthrown their post-Soviet president/despot, but whether he’s merely to be replaced with another one or not remains to be seen.
In fact, only India meets the non-statistical requirements to escape the third world, and with a score of 305 (up from 255 five years ago), a rapidly expanding population, and one of the least even income distributions in Asia, India has a long way to go.
Other third world Asian countries of less distinction include Turkmenistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan. None of these are very happy places to live.

The Middle East has 13 countries in the third world. Two, Oman and Saudi Arabia, score high enough to escape the third world but… well, these are Saudi Arabia and Oman we’re talking about. Not exactly bastions of libertarianism. Of the oil sheikdoms of the Middle East, however, Oman is a special case; the Emir’s program of “Omanization” has reduced the number of third country workers to a very low level, guaranteeing most young Omanis a job and giving the place the feeling of a unique and special country. The other Gulf states are like the various suburbs of California: they all look about the same, and dark-skinned non-citizens do all the real work. Oman is different.
Aside from oil-rich Arabian states, there are oil-rich North African states. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco all live in the third world, with Egypt and Morocco at the bottom and Tunisia at the top. Tunisia has a semblance of democratic government, which is a nice feature, and the women aren’t covered in tablecloths all the time unless they want to be. The president of the country is not a good man, but he has succeeded in getting Tunisia favored status with the EU, lowering trade barriers, and he has also brought industries to Tunisia other than oil drilling and refining. Tunisia scores a 596; a few years of development under the EU trade regime and a multi-party election, and Tunisia will escape the third world.
Turkey might also escape some year soon, especially if the EU doesn’t refuse to open accession talks with the Turkish government later this year as numerous European politicians/idiots have suggested. Since nearly every stab at liberalization the Turks have made in the past decade has been done solely as part of the goal of EU membership, shutting that door would likely cause the country to slide backward. Right now the Europeans are afraid Turkey’s 69 million Muslims might all suddenly flood their cities to take jobs as short-order cooks and subway token-takers; if they close the door on Turkey, though, they’ll probably find a lot of those 69 million Muslims blowing themselves up in the short order diners and subways in another ten years.
Aside from Jordan and Lebanon, which have questionable but semi-democratic governments and some limited personal freedoms, the rest of the Middle East isn’t getting out of the third world any time soon. This includes Iran, Azerbaijan, and Syria, the three other states in this group.

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