Yet out of the media spotlight, much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa was quietly building better governments, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which uses a complex equation of annual indicators to monitor how well governments are performing in the region’s 48 countries.
The organization’s latest figures, based on data collected in 2006, points to an often overlooked phenomenon: the emergence of free and fair elections across sub-Saharan Africa.
The index measures progress in five categories—including a government’s ability to establish peace and security, guarantee basic civil and human rights, oversee economic growth, and provide public services—but most the countries that scored higher marks this year did so by opening elections to competition.
Robert Rotberg, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University who teamed up with Sudanese telecommunications tycoon Mo Ibrahim to design the index, attributed the change to the growth of the middle class, greater civic consciousness, greater international and national pressure on governments, and the dying off of the first generation of postcolonial leaders.
The survey ranked Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana, and South Africa as the best governed countries on the continent for a second straight year.
Liberia won top honors for improvement. In 2006, following two decades of civil war, Liberia elected the continent’s first-ever female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has since set about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and institutions.
Nearly two-thirds of the countries in the index improved their scores from 2005, adding to recent indications of devleopment in Africa. In 2005, the World Bank in its annual report stated that Africa had “turned the corner” from poverty and debt to prosperity and wealth.
Yet some observers warn against triumphalism, and point to the new challenges ahead.
“State authoritarianism remains a very established fact in African government systems; elections are not entirely free and fair; corruption remains the order of the day,” says Osaghae Eghosa, professor of political science and vice-chancelor of Nigeria’s Igbinedion University. “You will find that the logical consequence of that kind of setup cannot be good governance.”
As foreign donors and international investors increasingly look for fair elections, government transparency and an impartial judiciary as conditions for releasing funds, African leaders are under pressure to at least appear more democratic.
[Editors Note: A Summary of “The Ibrahim Index of African Governance” can be read here. On that page are links to the various portions of the report.
A press release and briefing report are available here.]