African governance hampered by lack of safety, says new study

Somali police cadets march in a parade for a passing out ceremony to mark the completion of their training in Kismayo, Somalia. Photo by: Barut Mohamed / AMISOM

The African continent is a less-safe place to live than it was a decade ago, according to 10 years’ worth of data compiled and released Monday by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance is the 10th installment of the report and encompasses data gathered since the index’s inception in 2006. Aiming to be the most comprehensive analysis of African governance yet, the index measured 54 African countries against 95 indicators drawn from 34 independent data sources over the 2006-2016 period. The IIAG offers a framework for citizens, civil society, policymakers and international development institutions to evaluate the ability of African governments to deliver public services and policy outcomes.

While the index found small gains for improved governance, the data reveals that most African countries and economies are greatly hampered by a sweeping decline in safety and rule of law, with almost half of the countries on the continent registering their worst score ever in the category within the last 3 years.

The index showed only a single point increase in the continent’s average score for governance, up to 50 out of a score of 100, a measly improvement that was largely offset by losses in the safety and rule of law category, chair of the foundation Mo Ibrahim said at a press conference Monday. More than 33 countries saw a decline in safety and rule of law, he said, meaning close to two-thirds of Africans living on the continent are less safe than a decade ago.

“We noticed that actually [from] 2000 to 2005 or 2006, there was a significant improvement in governance, but after that it started to slow down,” Ibrahim told reporters. “In the last two years we have been raising the issue of stagnation. Somehow people got a little bit too comfortable, and I think we need to continue our hard work.”

Ibrahim pointed out that among the index’s four pillars — human development; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and safety and rule of law — the first three saw gains in the last decade. In fact, the index notes that 44 countries saw improvements in the human development category, But the huge declines in safety and rule of law have dragged down the continent’s overall performance, he explained.

The huge divide in progress between safety and rule of law and the other three pillars underlines an obvious trouble spot, said Jendayi Frazer, the former U.S. secretary of state for Africa and the current U.S. ambassador to South Africa at the index launch.

“What the analysis shows, is that when you have those types of imbalances, you’re more likely to actually undermine governance over the longer term,” she said in response to a question posed by Devex.

Countries improving & deteriorating in bands from 2006 to 2015. Source: 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance

The index also for the first time features data from Afrobarometer surveys, a measurement of attitudes toward governance throughout the 54 countries. The new feature focuses on attitudes toward poverty, inequality and employment, all key governance issues that are still mostly missing from expert data, the index notes.

“Until very recently, governance has been seen as an externally driven agenda led by aid donors and multilaterals and others,” Abdala Hamdok, the chair of IIAG Advisory Council told Devex after the press conference. “But I think through work like this, that looks at outputs and results, it is transforming this understanding into the fact that, unless you get your governance right, nothing moves,” he said.

The index, Hamdok said, also paints a complicated picture for development. As countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda make significant development gains — the latter entered into the index’s top 10 best performers for the first time this year — many in the aid community hope to engage but worry about less-than-stellar democratic records. Asked how development organizations should approach cooperation, Hamdok said they should think about and plan for the long term.

“This artificial divide between governance or democracy and development needs to be put in proper perspective,” he told Devex. “Democracy is not a development project that has one or two years, or five years for that matter. You have to be able and prepared to stay the long haul in this, and rise and fall in this process.”

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.