Five observations from this year’s Mo Ibrahim Governance report that didn’t make the headlines – By Richard Dowden
If I don’t read it as soon as I have torn open the envelope, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s annual report on governance in Africa usually goes to the top of the pile. This year, I set aside the eve of Mo Ibrahim’s annual conference to take a look, having forgotten that he had organised an enormous party the night before. It was held in Addis Ababa, and he brought over a Congolese football team to play the local Addis side in the national stadium. The match was followed by a concert with Beninoise singer Angélique Kidjo, Senegalese musician Youssou Ndour, and Ethiopian singer Jah Lude. The stadium rocked all evening and the party went on late into the night. It’s not easy to settle down and read the latest ratings on sustainable economic development after that. I have only just got round to studying the report closely. You can look at it here: http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/interact/
Forgive me if you have already spotted these observations, but since the ‘Africa rising’ story seems to be sweeping all before it; I thought it important to draw attention to a different narrative that emerges from the Index.
No one disputes that African economies are growing, and some African countries are producing greater wealth. But does this mean Africa is soaring away and wiping out the poverty that has dogged it for so long? Are the fruits of the recent boom in Africa’s commodities and a rise in the spending power of the middle classes creating a self-sustaining Africa? Is the wealth being invested in good infrastructure, health and education; or is it going to waste on vanity projects? Or is it simply stolen and exported by the small elites who own and run Africa? How governments use this new wealth is crucial to development.
Here are five insights from the Index that may not have made the headlines:
- Compare 2012 to 2011. Out of the 52 countries (Mo Ibrahim’s foundation does not currently report on his own country, Sudan, North or South) just over half, 28 to be exact, were better governed than last year, meaning that 24 scored lower than the previous year. As the resource boom begins to level off, it is essential that governments spend this money well to create a dynamic future. In almost half the countries that doesn’t seem to be happening.
- Countries where presidents have become dictators and ruled for more than a dozen years are overwhelmingly in the bottom half of all the indices, which include Safety & Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. The only exceptions are Uganda and Rwanda, but in the case of the former, development may be happening in spite of the government rather than because of it, and in the latter, deep political problems remain unaddressed.
- Resource rich countries are all in the bottom half of the table with the usual exception of Botswana. Does this mean that having oil or copper or diamonds under the ground ensures that the country will be badly run? It certainly confirms the resource curse theory.
- Islands are much safer than mainland countries and tend to be better run. In the personal safety rankings, Mauritius, Sí£o Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, the Comoros and Cape Verde take the top places. The only mainland country to make it into the top six is Botswana.
- Two countries, Eritrea and Somalia, are reported to be worse off than they were in 2000 when the Index was first produced. All the rest have made some progress. Some, like Liberia, have doubled their score in recent years, while others like Nigeria and South Africa have only improved in by a meagre one percentage point. Nigeria and South Africa’s lack of progress is especially disappointing given that these two are the giant leaders of Africa. The third giant in sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is second from bottom and has hardly improved at all in the past five years.
I also feel sorry for Somalia, which ranks lowest in all the governance tables, although perhaps that is because no government means no official figures. Parts of Somalia – Somaliland and Puntland, for example – are developing democracies, peaceful and relatively well run. But because the Index deals only with recognised nation states, Somalia’s figures are not accepted.
In theory, governance – once a constitution is in place – starts with elections. Let the people decide. But in Africa that great line from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible, sums it up: “To the Congolese it seems odd that if one man gets fifty votes and the second forty-nine, the first one wins altogether and the second one plumb loses. That means almost half the people will be unhappy… and in a village that’s left halfway unhappy you haven’t heard the end of it. There is sure to be trouble somewhere down the line.”
This is especially the case in countries that are divided by ethnicity. Ethnic identity is deeper and stronger than national identity in many countries. In most, ethnic support in elections means the winner must reward that support by spending money in the region. Elections become a simple numbers game, a competition between ethnic-based parties. The winner takes all, leaving great swathes of Africa unrepresented and often ignored by governments.
When did anyone in Africa sit down, read all the party manifestoes and decide who to vote for on the basis of their national policies? To be fair, not many people do that anywhere in the world, but at least elsewhere voters and journalists note the promises their politicians make and make an effort to hold them accountable when they are in power. There has to be a new way of accepting and celebrating ethnic identity and interests in African political systems while ensuring that all citizens and regions are treated equally.
The Index is a great way of enabling citizens to hold their governments to account. What I would like to see is a compilation of responses by African rulers to the Index every year.
Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles published by Portobello Books.
Follow him on twitter @DowdenAfrica