Black Affairs, Africa and Development

Ibrahim index shows governance improvements, safety declines

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Despite gains in areas of human and economic development, Africa is experiencing worrying regressions in safety and rule of law

African countries have experienced sustained gains in human and economic development since 2000, but that is not reflected in improved safety or rule of law, according to the 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance.  

The index, established by the Sudanese-born telecoms tycoon Mo Ibrahim, finds that 94 percent of Africans are living in countries that have experienced lasting improvements in governance over the past decade. “That is really a major achievement,” Mr Ibrahim told reporters in London.

Gains in human development – notably healthcare outcomes – have been considerable, with provision of antiretroviral treatment, immunisation and child mortality all ranking among the 10 most improved indicators. “That is a huge development action,” Mr Ibrahim says. “Health has been the greatest success story in Africa over the last 10 years.”

Economic advances have also been sustained, with notable improvements in the ratio of external debt service to exports, and in digital connectivity. The continent will grow at an average rate of 5 percent in 2013 and 6 percent in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Under the category of participation and human rights, Africa has also registered significant gains on issues of gender equality. Rwanda scores highest here, with a mark of 90.2 out of a possible 100. The proportion of women in the country’s parliament reached 64 percent following elections in September – more than any other country in the world. Liberia and Malawi both have acting female heads of state, and Aminata Touré has recently been named prime minister of Senegal.

In many cases those parliamentary developments have translated into improved legislation on violence against women. In 2012, a poll by Gallup showed that Rwanda is now considered the safest place for females to live in Africa by its residents.

However, worrying declines are being registered in the area of safety and rule of law – a diverse indicator including measures on accountability, judicial systems, personal safety and national security. Only 20 of 52 measured economies have shown improvements in this domain since 2000. “Here, we have a problem,” Mr Ibrahim told journalists. “If this deterioration is not turned around, it could signal an era where, despite fewer regional conflicts, we will see an increase in domestic social unrest across Africa,” he adds in the report’s foreword.

While cross-border disputes in Africa have declined over the past decade, a number of countries have experienced internal unrest over recent years. Egypt and Libya are still grappling with the fallout of the Arab Spring. Kenya, which experienced ethnic violence after 2007 elections, is now struggling to contain a terrorist threat from the Somali-based jihadist group al-Shabaab. Nigeria is fighting an insurgency with the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has faced its own rebellions in the east. Mali and Côte d’Ivoire have both suffered civil conflicts since 2010, and even the continent’s biggest economy South Africa is being hobbled by labour unrest.

The index paints an increasingly mixed picture of governance across the continent, showing that the gap between the best and worst performers is widening. Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde and the Seychelles rank top of class, while the biggest gains have been registered by post-conflict countries including Rwanda (now ranked 15th), Angola (39th), Liberia (29th) and Sierra Leone (31st). Somalia remains the worst performing country, followed by the DRC, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.

"The picture is complex," Mr Ibrahim says. "There are great achievements, but also challenges. We really need to focus on both of them."

Separately, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has no winner for the fourth time in five years. A panel committee for the world's biggest individual prize stressed that it is designed for former heads of state “who have demonstrated excellence in leading their country,” arguing that they never expected to award it every year. But critics argue that the award is doing more harm than good for the international reputation of African governance.

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