Sorry, Newsweek – Portugal Wrecked the World
Much to my surprise this week, I picked up Newsweek to find it asking, Did Britain wreck the world?
It lists Britain’s former colonies of Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Somalia, Nigeria, India and Pakistan, all of which are confronting “festering conflicts” as reasons to suggest it did.
As a journalist who spent five and a half years covering the post-colonial seismic transformations in a former Dutch colony, Indonesia – my colleagues and I had picked a different contender for Worst Colonial Power: Portugal.
I mean, Come on – Mozambique and Angola are almost synonymous with civil war and land mines. Equatorial Guinea? From what I’ve read, you could take that place over in a weekend. East Timor spent a long time as a rather unhappy place – and still hasn’t completely recovered.
So let’s do the math.
Foreign Policy magazine puts out an annual Failed States Index – and I’m a big fan.
The index uses a point system to take into account several variables to come up with its rankings. These are demographic pressures, refugees and IDP’s, group grievance, economic flight, delegitimization of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites, and external intervention.
The higher the points accrued, the higher the nation’s listing on the Failed States Index. This year’s winner is Somalia, with 114.7 points. On the other extreme is Norway, with a mere 18.3 points.
Let’s take the eight former British colonies listed by Newsweek, add up their points and take an average (perhaps not the most scientific method, but I’m sticking with it.)
Again, these are: Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Israel/West Bank, Somalia and Nigeria. The average comes to 99.84 points.
And let’s look at eight of Portugal’s former colonies: East Timor, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe.
The average is 83.79. So by that ranking, yes, Britain is the bigger boogeyman.
However, the British list is massively incomplete. (While Portugal had many more colonial outposts than those I’ve listed, not as many of their former colonies became independent nations. For example, Goa is part of India. Macau is part of China.)
So let’s throw in a few more former British colonies.
How about the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore? Does that skew the playing field? For good measure, let’s also throw in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Burma.
Now, the average drops to 81.04 — meaning Britain screwed up its colonies LESS than Portugal – whose average is 83.79 (remember, a higher number means a higher listing on the for Failed State Index.)
Also, perhaps we should rethink Iraq. After all, what has propelled it towards failed state status in recent years were not the fraying vestiges of colonial power, but a pre-emptive modern war with dubious motives.
If we take Iraq out of the equation, Britain’s average drops to 79.2.
Sorry Newsweek – and sorry Portugal! But this means if you’re a citizen of a nation that was a former colony – as so many of us are - you’re better off to have hailed from the British Empire, than a Portuguese one.
I’ll leave someone else to do the math on the French and the Dutch.