Africa’s governance performance has declined for the first time in a decade, according to Sudanese telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim’s 2020 Index of African Governance.
His index, compiled before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, disputed elections in Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire and the unfolding ethnic conflict in Ethiopia – registered the first overall performance decline since 2010.
The 2019 average score for overall governance fell by -0.2 points, triggered by worsening performance in three of the four main categories: participation, rights & inclusion, security & rule of law, and human development.
“In terms of participation, rights & inclusion, progress was slowing long before the pandemic, which only worsens the existing negative trajectory. Conversely, economic opportunity was set on a positive course of sustained progress, and the impact of COVID-19 is now threatening this hard-won achievement,” says a statement from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
Over the past decade, 20 countries, home to 41.9% of Africa’s population, declined in security & rule of law (-0.7) and participation, rights & inclusion (-1.4), even while achieving progress in human development (+3.0) and foundations for economic opportunity (+4.1).
Overall progress has been slowing since 2015, according to the Foundation, although 61.2% of Africa’s population live in a country where overall governance is better than in 2010. Still, only eight countries managed to improve in all four categories over the decade – Angola, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Seychelles, Sudan and Togo.
Challenges to progress
Several of these countries now face political headwinds which could undermine their hard-won progress. In Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, progress risks being undone by the rapidly-escalating armed conflict between the federal government and the government of the Tigray region. It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s economic and political reform agenda can survive a widening conflict that has already dragged in neighbouring Eritrea.
Côte d’Ivoire is navigating the aftermath of the third election of President Allasane Ouattara, which was boycotted by opposition leaders, and Angola’s economy has been decimated by the collapse in oil prices this year.
Sudan, which continues to make progress in its tricky transition from militant political Islamism to inclusive democracy, offers a rare green shoot. Its joint civilian-military government this month negotiated its long-awaited removal from the US state sponsors of terrorism list, which will allow it to access international financial markets and secure support from multilateral institutions.
Testing time for Africa
Nevertheless, the overall negative trends are likely to lead to increasing dissatisfaction with the performance of African governments. Public perception of overall governance registered the lowest score over the decade in 2019, with the pace of deterioration nearly doubling within the last five years.
“This is a testing time for Africa. Pre-existing weaknesses and challenges in African governance, as uncovered by the 2020 IIAG, are exacerbated by COVID-19, which also threatens economic progress,” says Mo Ibrahim.
“Citizens’ dissatisfaction and mistrust with governance delivery are growing. African states have an opportunity to demonstrate both their resolve to safeguard democracy and their ability to drive a new growth model that is more resilient, more equitable, more sustainable, and more self-reliant.”