African Governance under scrutiny

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) allocates scores and ranks to each of Africa’s countries to see how they have performed since the last report. Anver Versi reviews the 2013 report. With most of Africa now poised to move to the next level of development, nothing has become of greater relevance than the quality […]


The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) allocates scores and ranks to each of Africa’s countries to see how they have performed since the last report. Anver Versi reviews the 2013 report.

With most of Africa now poised to move to the next level of development, nothing has become of greater relevance than the quality of governance on the continent. The issue of governance has dogged the continent for most of its independent history. Poor governance makes nonsense of whatever other resources a country may have, while good governance can create robust, happy and often prosperous societies even if resources are in short supply.  Governance is so critical to Africa’s development and future prospects that legendary businessman Mo Ibrahim decided to create a task force to assess the continent’s governance and track its progress or regression. 

To see the overall country results of the report, click here: Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)

The word ‘governance’ often gets confused with government, leadership, power and politics. Governance, in fact, is what a governing body does. The body itself could be a national or regional government, a company or any other institution. When we talk about governance, we mean the performance of the body entrusted with certain tasks, obligations, targets and aims.

While independent Africa has had a plethora of governments, ranging from dictatorial to military to democratic, what has been of the essence is governance – how have governments carried out, or not carried out, the functions normally associated with national governments.

The quality of governance in Africa, until a decade or so ago, was by and large very poor. The one refrain that was repeated over and over again by virtually all multinational organisations, investors and even foreign nations was ‘Africa must improve its governance’.

But, of course, it is easier said than done. Governance is the trickiest bit to get right. Getting into government, by contrast, as we have seen on numerous occasions, can be as easy as pointing a gun at someone in authority and telling them to vacate the position or else. 

Once in government, however, the situation becomes entirely different. Now governance kicks in – it is an entirely different matter to staging coups, or winning elections. It is about effective management and the skillsets required are of a different order altogether.

In the business world, effective management, or governance, is the biggest challenge companies face. There is a truism that ‘big companies are scarce because big people are scarcer’. The larger an organisation becomes, the more unwieldy it threatens to be and the greater the need for effective management. If managing a company effectively can be so challenging, imagine the skillsets required to govern a nation of several million people who cannot be ‘hired’ or ‘fired’ and who come in all ages, all classes, all dispositions; and each with their individual hopes, fears and dreams. It is a daunting undertaking at the best of times. In Britain, for example, governance is carried out by a highly skilled civil service headed by permanent secretaries who carry out the functions of governance in the same neutral and efficient manner, no matter what the hue of the current government. 

At independence, Africa was left with only a bare-bones skeleton of governance and a largely illiterate population. African governments had to fashion out governance mechanisms, sometimes from scratch, with a virtually bare cupboard in terms of human resources.

Some succeeded admirably under the circumstances; some had no clue at all and their countries descended into ‘ungovernable’ chaos; and some regarded the governance institutions as lucrative spots in which to park their relatives and friends. 

The quality of governance is also determined by the attitudes of those who gain political power through whatever means. Africa has had its fill of self-centred, selfish leaders who saw power as a means simply to enrich themselves and their cronies and didn’t give two hoots about the needs of the country and the people. 

This type of leadership, if it can be called that, is no different from the compradore system that existed during the colonial era, when local leaders were co-opted into acting as agents for the colonising powers. They worked hand in glove with colonial powers to strip as many resources and assets from their own countries as they could and shipped these abroad. Another word for such behaviour is traitor.

Mercifully, since the end of the Cold War, the number of these compradore leaders has been steadily declining. But there are still a few dinosaurs who have their sights fixed firmly on what they consider the good life abroad and blissfully ignore the plight of their own people. What they are blind to is that while their money may be welcome abroad, they are not, and are often regarded as beneath contempt by the very people they strive so hard to please. Serves them right. 

But the African Union celebrates 50 years of its existence this year and Africa has matured. There is a realisation that neither personal nor national salvation can be found outside the continent. Africa is our home and it will be whatever we choose to make of it. There has also been a growing sense of pride in being African and over the last decade and a half, a determination to do whatever it takes to make Africa a better continent to live and work on for all its diverse peoples.


Magical qualities

National progress is not, and has never been, about a few very wealthy and successful individuals, but about when the majority are healthy, educated, prosperous, ambitious and inventive. Then you can say that we, as a people, have arrived and are ready to be counted among the best nations of the world. 

If there is any doubt about the almost magical qualities of good governance, one has only to remind oneself of Singapore. When it was expelled from union with Malaysia in 1965 and had to stand on its own feet, it was dirt-poor and had no resources whatever. The different ethnic groups were at each other’s throats, illiteracy was the norm, living conditions were appalling. No one gave it any chance of surviving. But it did. Today it is one of the richest non-oil-producing countries in the world and its people enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes. The miracle was achieved solely through clever governance by a set of dedicated people, who realised that only if the nation as a whole succeeded would they be taken seriously by the rest of the world. Today people and leaders from every corner of the world seem to make a pilgrimage to pay homage to the success of governance of Singapore.

If Africa is to claim the 21st century, as some crystal-ball gazers are predicting, good governance must take top priority. Without proper governance, there can be no progress, no matter if your country is swimming in oil and gold. 

To do this, African governments have to be clear what good governance entails, where they are currently on the scale, where the shortcomings are and if there have been improvements. But how do you measure an abstract such as governance? 

Governance second front

Mo Ibrahim has been thumping the table and demanding better governance for as long as I can recall. His multimillion-dollar leadership award for national leaders who leave office having served their countries exceptionally well, is a volley in that direction. 

His second front has been the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). The index has been published annually for the last seven years but the base year is 2010. “This allows us to look not just at changes over the last year but at longer-term trends,” says Ibrahim. 

The index measures the governance performances of all African countries, gives scores and provides rankings. It shows which countries have made progress, and in which categories, and which have either stayed still or regressed. 

The index is brimming with easy-to-read statistics and charts collated from a vast amount of data collected by the superb team that the Ibrahim Foundation has put together. There is a mine of information for national planners to work with. 

This brings us back to the question of how do you measure governance? First, the index defines governance as “the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that the state has a responsibility to deliver to its citizens”.

This is as clear and unambiguous definition of governance as you can wish for. It mentions ‘the right to expect’ on the part of the citizens and the ‘responsibility of the state to deliver’. 

For too long, some African states have behaved as it they were doing a favour to their citizens when delivering public goods and citizens, too, tend to regard officials doing the jobs they are paid to do as favours to be begged for. The definition makes it plain that these are not favours but rights and obligations.

The public goods and services are broken down into four categories: Safety and Rule of Law; Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development.

The categories are made up of 14 sub-categories consisting of 94 indicators. For example, Human Development consists of three sub-categories: Welfare, Education and Health. Indicators under Education will include provision and quality of education, progression to secondary school and literacy levels among other indicators. The same format is applied to all the main categories.

For all countries, these four categories are put under the microscope and the delivery outcomes are given scores to arrive at an overall score. The overall score is out of 100. 

2013 results

The most encouraging finding of the 2013 Index is that there has been a widespread improvement in African governance across the continent since the turn of the century. The figures show that 94% of Africans “now live in a country has demonstrated overall governance improvement since 2000. Eighteen out of the 52 countries analysed saw their best ever performance in this year’s IIAG”.

Compared to the 2012 index, 46 countries have improved the overall governance but five countries, Madagascar, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and Libya have deteriorated since 2000, with the biggest deterioration coming from Madagascar.

In terms of categories, the biggest improvement across the continent has been in Human Development. Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Participation and Human Rights have also improved to some extent but Safety and Rule of Law has regressed.

“If this deterioration is not turned around,” says Ibrahim, “it could signal an era where, despite fewer regional conflicts, we will see an increase in domestic social unrest across Africa.”

Mauritius once again sits at the top of the governance table with a score of 82.9 (out of 100) while Somalia has the lowest score with only 8. The continental average for overall scores is 51.6 but a disturbing element is that the gap between the top performers, which include Botswana and Cape Verde, and the bottom performers including Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, is increasing. This shows that while governance in most of Africa is improving, some countries are going nowhere.

Interestingly, Tunisia’s score places it still among the top 10 performers but I think the scoring has not been able to take into account recent events in that country. Another encouraging trend is that countries emerging from conflict have made the biggest overall improvements of all. Liberia had gained 24.8 points since 2000 followed by Angola (+18.1), Sierra Leone (+14.8), Rwanda (+10.9) and Burundi (+8.8). In terms of regional groupings, Southern Africa is the best-performing region and has been so since 2000 with an average score of 59.2, followed by North Africa (54.0), West Africa (52.5), East Africa (47.9) and Central Africa (40.1).

At the indicator level, the highest improvement has been in the provision of anti-retroviral treatment (+44) followed by the ratio of external debt service to exports (+33.5) and child mortality (+15.2). The worst deteriorations have been in human rights (-3.6), freedom of expression (-4.0), violent crime (-4.8) and perhaps the most disturbing, a massive deterioration in safety of the person (-22.8) and workers’ rights (-23.5).

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance cannot and does not claim absolute accuracy but it is a massive volume of work and give or take a few points here and there, is as accurate an assessment of the state of governance on the continent today as is possible. It is an invaluable tool to enable countries to examine their shortcomings and work harder to redress these, while the worsening governance in the bottom countries should send alarm bells ringing within the AU. These countries obviously need help urgently to bring about vast improvements in their governance.  

For the full report, click here:

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