Image of Mauritius as holiday paradise found to be true reflection of Africa's 'best-governed country'

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The Independent Online

Most visitors to the tinyisland nation of Mauritius come in search of a predictable mix of unspoilt beaches and hot weather. Few will have been aware of the government's strong record on human rights and most are probably unaware of its rigorous anti-corruption legislation and progressive policies on poverty, education and health.

But now the 1.2 million people who live in Mauritius may start boasting about those achievements a little more loudly. Mauritius, about 1,200 miles off the coast of mainland Africa, has been named the continent's best-governed country in the first comprehensive ranking of African governance.

The rankings, devised by a team of Harvard academics, are the brainchild of one of Africa's richest men, Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born Briton who established one of the continent's biggest mobile phone networks.

The Ibrahim Index tests all 48 sub-Saharan countries against five measures of governance, including rule of law, security and human development. Mauritius came top, with another island state, the Seychelles, coming second. Botswana, which has widely been recognised as one of Africa's best governed states, came third, Cape Verde was fourth and South Africa fifth.

South Africa would have been higher were it not for a terrible score on "safety and security". Along with Nigeria and Kenya, it scored less than war-torn Somalia.

"We are shining a light on governance in Africa," said Mr Ibrahim, "and in so doing we are making a unique contribution to improving the quality of governance. For the first time we have this comprehensive set of data. I hope governments will use it as a diagnostic tool to see which policies were successful."

The data released yesterday judged the 48 countries over a five-year period, enabling the index to record which countries had made the biggest improvements and which had gone backwards. Rwanda was named the most improved country, climbing 18 places. Alfred Ndahiro, an adviser to President Paul Kagame, said the country had taken giant steps. "Economywise we've made good progress. Rwanda is probably the safest country in the region and Kigali is the safest city."

The top 10 also included Ghana and Senegal, countries that, along with Botswana and South Africa, are considered Africa's strongest democracies.

Mr Ibrahim rejected criticisms that it was unfair to judge Mauritius, Seychelles and Cape Verde against mainland African countries. "We cannot ignore them because they are small or islands," he said. "The smaller the population the better the chance that everybody will behave. That's an advantage definitely, but we cannot just drop them."

Unsurprisingly, Somalia, which doesn't even have a functioning central government, was named the worst country. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Sudan fared little better. "These are countries which have major conflicts going on," said Mr Ibrahim.

"The index captures something right in front of our eyes. If you have a severe conflict in your country it affects your governance. The economy collapses, you abuse human rights. This index is a cry for peace in Africa."

The most improved

Rwanda (up 18 places)

No country in Africa has transformed as much over the past five years. Its capital, Kigali, is booming, with foreign investment rising and the government investing heavily in internet and telecommunications technology. Critics argue President Paul Kagame's record on human rights is poor.

Ethiopia (up 10)

The economy in Africa's second most populous nation is growing and most parts of the country are safe. The government is accused of human rights abuse in the Ogaden region, it still has thousands of troops in neighbouring Somalia, and is perennially on the brink of returning to war with its neighbour to the north, Eritrea.

Mali (up 9)

One of Africa's more stable democracies, Mali scores highly on safety and security and human rights. But it is one of the continent's poorest countries. A rebellion by Tuaregs threatens to destabilise the country.

Comoros (up 6)

The islands have the potential to be a glorious tourist destination. But political instability and desperate poverty have prevented it making much progress. Despite experiencing more than 20 coup attempts in just over 30 years of independence, the country is relatively safe for ordinary people.

Niger (up 6)

Two years ago Niger faced one of the world's worst famines. Despite scoring low on the economy, Niger is deemed to have a relatively good human rights and security record.

Equatorial Guinea (up 6)

The oil-rich dictatorship of Teodoro Obiang Ngeuma, which was nearly toppled in a farcical coup attempt three years ago, scores high marks for safety and security.