Little evidence of “˜Africa Rising’ in Ibrahim Index of African Governance – By Richard Dowden

dowden9Next time you pick up a glossy document from one of the global consultancy companies promoting investment opportunities in Africa, count the number of times the word “˜could’ appears. Also the phrase “potential to become…”.

These global megafirms, whose word is life or death to small countries, give the impression that Africa has only just been discovered, a hidden El Dorado of investment opportunity. Get on a plane to Ouagadougou tomorrow and make your fortune.

The worst examples of this grotesque hype have been the Renaissance Capital’s book The Fastest Billion – about “Africa’s Economic Revolution” and The Economist’s Hopeful Continent cover with trite article written by a tourist.

They should be more careful. There is no doubt that there is wider space for commerce in most African countries than there was 10 years ago but in no way is it like doing business in Norway. And it wont be for a while. If these organisations blow the bubble up too big and too fast it will burst and we will be back to The Hopeless Continent days.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s annual report on the state of Africa, is an excellent antidote to the sweet dreams of the big consultancies and fleeting visits by economists. Mr Ibrahim calls for “an Afro-realist approach which tempers historical Afro-pessimism and current Africa-optimism”. He made his fortune in telecoms in Africa and he knows that Africa is – and always was – far richer than everyone thought. But it also goes at its own pace and can sometimes be difficult.

The index is compiled from numerous data sources and has been refined over the years to give as accurate a picture as possible of where Africa is at. Scores and rankings are good ways of conveying progress, success and failure. This index is the best you can find.

It rightly identifies governance as the key to Africa’s future. To misquote Bill Clinton: “It’s the politics stupid”. The index amply illustrates this. Just look at the six bottom countries in the index: Somalia, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Chad, Guinea Bissau and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At one time at or since independence these countries all did well,  but since then have been failed by their rulers or by outside political interference and so their economies have collapsed.

But there is little evidence in this report of “˜Africa Rising’ at the rate some commentators suggest. The good news is that 39 countries have improved their governance and only 13 have deteriorated, but the bad news is that when it comes to safety and the rule of law 25 have got better but 27 have got worse. Politics in Africa are fast moving however and these figures could change rapidly.

The economic cost of the political upheavals is evidenced everywhere, In fact, out of the 728 boxes for all the countries’ categiories, 312 are either negative or static. This is not a picture of continental lift off. Out of the 52 countries in the index this year, 28 African countries have done better and 24 worse. (The two Sudans – Mr Ibrahim’s birthplace – are not included).

The most worrying fact that emerges from the Index is that the three African countries with the largest populations, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the bottom half of the index. Between them they contain about a third of Africa’s population. There is only one, South Africa, in the top quartile. This suggests that whatever the good news, a large proportion of Africans are still trapped in absolute poverty with little chance of finding a way out any time soon.

While only 13 countries have improved their overall governance in the past five years, 23 achieved their best performance so far. And – as night follows day – 28 countries, those with improved governance records, have also improved sustainable economic opportunities for their citizens. But an almost equal number, 24, have deteriorated. They are mostly the ones which have had political upheavals. The aftermath of the Arab spring is taking its toll in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia whose scores have fallen dramatically.

The only clear, almost continent-wide, good news is that human development has improved in 41 countries and only declined in 11. Health has been top of the list of improvements. The African average is now 72.7 per cent with improved health care leaving education and welfare trailing at around 50 per cent.

The low levels of education and poor outcomes from schools and universities will take time to turn around. In the meantime poor education has produced disillusioned youth whose family capital has been wasted by sending them to school but with no skills or jobs at the end of it. This was a key factor in the north African uprisings. Whatever the political fall out, educational failure will be a heavy drag on Africa for years to come.

On a very positive note African countries that have been through political disaster, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, recover quickly and soon become top performers again. Cote d’Ivoire has slipped slightly on issues of accountability, gender and public management but improved hugely in participation, national security and the rule of law. Guinea also scores highly on these issues.

Some of the figures are puzzling. Has Nigeria really improved participation and human rights in the past five years? Participation means “the relationship between government and citizen”, voting in elections, and playing a part in the political process. So surely more participation must be followed by improved accountability. More people take part in the political process so the government must react by trying to implement their wishes. But in Nigeria accountability has gone down by 0.1% . Puzzling.

I do recommend digging around in the rankings and statistics. It is revealing, intriguing, sometimes puzzling, but you will learn a lot and have a better feel for where Africa is at than by reading ten reports from the global consultancy companies.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles. Follow Richard on twitter@DowdenAfrica 

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12 thoughts on “Little evidence of “˜Africa Rising’ in Ibrahim Index of African Governance – By Richard Dowden

  1. “At one time at or since independence these countries all did well, but since then have been failed by their rulers .. and so their economies have collapsed.”

    What? And you fail to mention Zimbabwe? Tut tut comrade.

  2. It’s been my impression that “Africa” can pretty much be read as short for “Republic of South Africa, and Nigera” in this context.

  3. Richard Dowden has always been a foremost critic of the hype about Africa’s rising. He is correct now and will always be correct in his informed skepticism until the distorted African economy changes. He, in a prior posting on this medium, categorically stated that Africa has little chance of rising if value-added production remains undeveloped. That is a historical incontrovertibility.
    Let me highlight something, however. Governance is important for a country’s development but it is not the key to development, leadership is. Why? To govern is to manage and perfect the status quo to the highest levels of efficiency; but to lead is to pull society to march to new paths.. Therefore Governance conserves, but Leadership transforms. Governance is static, leadership is dynamic. If as stated by Richard Dowden the Mo Ibrahim Index is centered on governance, its administrators may consider taking a step further to identify those in leadership positions who see and act out their role as a transforming mission and have something to show for it from those who manage well but do not look beyond their noses. The latter cannot catapult Africa to development. The former will.

  4. I appreciate Richard Dowden’s more blunt and balanced assessment about the reality on the ground in Africa.
    Public relations and twisting the reality will have no meaningful effect on the daily lives of people on the ground in Africa. African leaders need to face the reality and do what needs to be done to accommodate political oppositions as well as civic society group and enhance accountability. Anything less will be perpetuating the same old process that has increasingly led most of Africa in to shameful poverty and human suffering and most of its leaders to disgraceful end.
    Aklilu Wendaferew

  5. There is an excellent new book out about this entitled “Africa Rising? BRICS Diversifying Dependency” which systematically and in more detail debunks the whole “Africa Rising” silliness.

  6. Having been long disillusioned by the ‘Africa rising’ stupidity, I’m glad to read Richard Dowden’s reality check. I feel like punching something each time I hear Nigeria’s souped-up GDP mentioned. Let us tag up Nigeria’s net revenue and put that against real (not announced budget) spending in social/development sectors. It’s a baby-backing shame what happens to Nigeria’s wealth. It seems to grow wings right from the wells. If just 40% of it hits the ground, Nigerians would would know no poverty in ten years. Nigeria’s problem is as simple as that. Which is more the shame.

  7. This is a good journal depending on how one sees Africa since the decolonization of the continent
    in the early 1960. The assumption of political independence in Africa has not resulted in economic independence simply because the indigenous people have not yet mastered fully the Western way of doing things. This will take sometime to master and integrate the economy globally. Globalization might change all the obstacles that Africa has faced presently.

  8. Thanks, Richard Dowden, or your most thoughtful and well-written article. Having the facts right is one of the first steps in achieving positive change and doesn’t make one a skeptic or a pessimist. We can still have aspirations for a healthy Africa. Distorting facts does no one any good. Thanks, too, to Chikwendu Christian Ukaegbu for pointing out that leadership is the key to positive change. Leaders who have a vision for the future, shared by many, and who also have a clear and accurate picture of the current reality and can help people keep these two in mind can make a big difference in moving Africa forward.

  9. What this article fails to mention is that liberal democracy governance standards do not necessarily lead to poverty reduction. You can score lowest on Mo’s aggregated index but still reduce poverty for your citizens. In other words, Africa can rise economically even while falling in liberal democracy governance standards.

  10. Dear Richard,

    You’re a little unfair on the Fastest Billion. We did not compare Africa’s nation states to Norway – we compared it to India (and Developing Asia) and argued that the problems and progress would be similar. We argued that even with decades of accelerating growth, per capita GDP will be far below European or US levels. As a result – corruption and other governance indicators will be problematic for decades. We should not expect much improvement over a five year horizon.
    Many investors have discovered Africa (SSA specifically) for the first time and most have benefited from the experience in recent years.
    I agree there are risks of bubbles – the external debt space is one where it is hard to find value but this is a global, not an Africa specific problem. And we argue that education improvements, better leadership in many countries, and easier access to diversified investment flows, means a return to “The hopeless continent” narrative is unlikely.
    Happy to engage on this more as you like,
    yours sincerely,

  11. In as much as some of the submissions of Richard is right, African is still an emerging and rising frontier. African countries are not yet there but there are some areas that have improved tremendously. No matter what the MOi Index says about Africa ,there are numerous areas of good news emanating from the continent. It takes some time for the countries to show noticeable development compared to Norway. They would get there with improved governance and adding value to their natural resources. It is not a hopeless situation.

  12. Dear Richard,
    Even though i admire your critical analysis of African economic growth,giving credit to countries like Ethiopia is important.Ethiopia,starting from a low base has achieved a magnificent growth in the last 10 years.It has a government that is pro-poor.Look at its policy,allocation of budget to education,health,infrastructure,food security etc. and you will obviously reach a conclusion that Ethiopia is rising.Ethiopia knows very well where it wants to reach in 10,20,30 years.The govt has a vision shared by the people.
    Do not generalize conclusions.Look at each country separately and also on sub -region basis.
    Your critical analysis is very helpful though.

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