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Government accountability takes a nosedive

Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2014 Index of African Governance is out. According to the findings, more Africans than ever are participating at a democratic level, while at the same time their governments are becoming less transparent and accountable.

Africa has seen a deterioration in safety, accountability and the rule of law across the continent in the last five years, say the latest data from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Index of African Governance 2014. This continues the trend of the previous five years regarding the overall rule of law and personal safety, but signals a change in direction in terms of accountability, which had been improving but has taken a recent nosedive.

Former Irish president and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, at the launch in London today, challenged African heads of state to tackle this problem, and cautioned that there had been attempts to lessen the requirements for the rule of law in the drafting of the post-2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Ironically, the data showed that participation at the ‘front end’ of democracy was showing a clear and substantial increase, but that this was not feeding through into accountability at the other end of the political process, with an enduring problem of transparency and an unwillingness to share outcomes.

Overall governance continues to improve across the continent, but not nearly as fast in the last five years as in the previous five years, mainly dampened by security and also economic issues. National security has remained stable, with little in the way of cross-border tensions, but many security problems took place within national borders.

Ibrahim said today that it was unclear whether the decline in domestic security was down to the marginalisation of particular groups, pervasive inequality, religious extremism or other reasons, and asked researchers to use the data to help work out what is happening on the ground.

Meanwhile, ‘Sustainable Economic Opportunity’ as a category showed signs of having stalled, and Ibrahim called for an exploration of why the faster growth of 2005 to 2009 appeared to have stagnated. “Everyone is talking about the economic miracle in Africa – we need to watch out.”

In the Index, the four over-arching categories used to mention a country’s governance performance are Safety and Rule of Law; Participation and Human Rights; Sustainable Economic Opportunities; and Human Development. Fifty-two countries are covered by the index, each of which is scored from 0-100, and also ranked from 1 to 52.

The IIAG explained:

In national terms, South Africa came under particular fire as a relatively high-scoring and politically stable country that nonetheless showed a marked deterioration in terms of national security, human rights and gender.

South African former politician and activist Jay Naidoo said that young people in South Africa were often coming out of 12 years’ education with few skills and little hope for the “dignity of labour in their lifetime”. He also pointed out that inequality has risen in South Africa and that this has knock-on effects for personal safety. “These are worrying signs we have to address to avoid future problems.”

Meanwhile a few of the typically lower-scoring countries secured decent increases in their scores. Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Zimbabwe all chalked up improvements, and while Ibrahim warned that they were growing from a low base, he did also comment favourably on their reversal of previously negative trends.

Historically strong performers who showed weakness in the latest set of measurements were Mauritius, Cabo Verde, Botswana, South Africa and the Seychelles. Botswana in particular showed a decrease in sustainable economic opportunities for its people. “We say brothers, watch it, you have some slippages, and you have to reverse that trend,” said Ibrahim, who was sitting right next to Botswana’s former President Masire and across from former President Festus Mogae.

The 2014 IIAG launch
The 2014 IIAG launch

Both encouraged more participation for young people across Africa, from seminars to feed into government policy both nationally and internationally (Masire) and a call to sign up to vote, so that politicians would pay attention to young people as an interest group (Mogae).

On the Human Development side, a marked improvement in Health had been recorded, but the proceedings were undoubtedly overshadowed by the still unfolding Ebola outbreak. Ibrahim pointed out that the three countries most severely affected by the disease were fragile, post-conflict nations with limited ability to build robust health systems to tackle the problem, whereas both Nigeria and Senegal had managed to contain it.

He underlined concerns about the economic impact of the illness, and the way in which it has been reported. “What worries me is brushing all of Africa with the image of Ebola. Paris is closer to Guinea than South Africa is – but has anybody cancelled holidays to Paris because of Ebola? Don’t be crazy! People must look at a map and understand what is going on… We are also very worried now about the economic effects in those three countries because of Ebola – the resulting hunger and famine could be even more serious.”

This time, the launch of the Index has been separated from the Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership (now likely to be awarded in February 2015), a move welcomed by many. Hadeel Ibrahim, founding executive director of the Foundation, said: “Governance and leadership are two very separate things. Governance is about risk management and leadership is about taking risks.”

Mozambique’s Graca Machel and France’s Pascal Lamy (formerly director of the World Trade Organisation) were confirmed as new members of the Foundation’s board.

In conclusion, Mo Ibrahim got on to the topic of single African narratives. “Many years ago, people said that Africa is a basketcase. This was not the case… but now people say Africa is the best thing since sliced bread, the new Wild West, the gold rush. This is also a misrepresentation. Africa has always been a good place to do business. Africa is rising, it has always been rising, but it is rising slowly.”

The data has been provided online by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation – if you want to understand the key findings, these are provided, as well as a summary report, but country profiles are also provided for those who want to access specific country analysis and the whole dataset is online in various formats for further analysis by academics and researchers, with a video tutorial here. You can also interact with the data visually.

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