Thursday, February 14, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia ‘Catches Up’ with Nigeria, International Ratings Suggest

Paul Goble

Baku, February 14 – The Russian Federation has “caught up” and on certain measures even “surpassed” Nigeria, according to various international ratings groups. But this “achievement” is not something Russians should feel good about because it points to the continuing degradation of their country.
The readers of the internet portal FORUM.msk have assembled what its editors call “a remarkable table” comparing the rankings that the Russian Federation and Nigeria have received this year from the World Bank to Transparency International to the Heritage Foundation (
“By the size of population, level of mortality and a number of other indicators,” FORUM.msk reports, “Russia has not only caught up but even managed to surpass Nigeria.” And as far as polluting the environment and media freedom are concerned, it has even “confidently gone beyond – in the sense of greater pollution and less freedom.”
The two petroleum-exporting countries have roughly the same population, Russia with a 142 million people, and Nigeria, 140 million. Their earnings from its sale have led to dramatic growth in the gold reserves, with Russia showing the greatest increase in such holdings last year and Nigeria the second largest, the World Bank reports.
But if the two are getting rich as countries, this wealth is not trickling down to many of their citizens. They rank among the countries with the highest rates of income inequality, and each suffers from relatively high unemployment, 6.6 percent in Russia and 5.8 percent in Nigeria, according to the CIA World Fact Book.
That pattern has contributed to relatively high mortality rates of 16.04 per 1000 in Russia and 16.68 in Nigeria, relatively low male life expectancies, 58 in Russia and 52 in Nigeria, and relatively high and very similar rates of migration, according to figures in the same source.
Nor is either protecting the environment or visitors. According to one measure of pollution supplied by the World Bank, Russia ranks as the world’s worst – with Nigeria trailing at number two. And according to GlobeScan Incorporated, they are the fourth (Russia) and fifth (Nigeria) most dangerous countries to visit.
Other ratings for these two countries provide even fewer reasons for celebration. Russia and Nigeria are among the most corrupt countries in the world, with Russia ranking 143rd and Nigeria 147th, according to Transparency International’s evaluation of economic openness.
Moreover, the two are among the lowest in terms of government protection of property rights, 63rd and 64th respectively out of 70, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and they rank low as well in terms of the ease of doing business, with Russia being in 143rd place and Nigeria at 108th, according to the World Bank.
All this in turn means that there is relatively little support for democracy or media freedom. Only 47.8 percent of Russians and 44.2 percent of Nigerians believe that democracy is superior to other forms of government, GlobeScan Incorporated reports in its current rankings.
Both rank near the bottom in the Reporters without Borders assessment of media freedom this year, with Russia ranking 144th out of 169 countries in that list and Nigeria doing only marginally better at 131st. Moreover, GlobeScan reports, 47 percent of Russians and 43 percent of Nigerians say stability is more important than media freedom.
A month ago Moscow responded to the low rating Freedom House gave Russia’s political system by lashing out and announcing its intention to set up offices in Paris and New York to monitor conditions in the West, something it has now done with the appointment of two ardent nationalists to head them.
But because the figures listed by FORUM.msk came from many different sources and because they suggest that Russia is best compared not with Europe but with a corrupt kleptocracy in sub-Saharan Africa, Russian officials are unlikely to say very much lest they attract more attention to these most unwelcome data.
Unfortunately, Moscow’s unwillingness to take these measures seriously is likely to be paralleled by that of many in the West who either do not want to offend the Russians by talking about such comparisons or who do not believe that such ratings say anything that important about the Russian Federation.
Obviously, these statistics are not the only measure of a country’s situation and status, but this set of numbers is important not only because it suggests that the Russian Federation is not doing nearly as well as its government and many others routinely claim but also because it indicates that Moscow and its people face enormous problems ahead.

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