Mo Ibrahim: To govern Africa, you need the facts

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The Independent Online

The launch of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance once again brings the issue of governance to the centre stage. While many of the results may conform with people’s intuition, there are also some surprises.

One of those surprises is the continued lack of robust and comprehensive data with which to assess our continent. To take just one example, poverty data for the majority of sub-Saharan Africa is non-existent, extremely patchy or completely out-of-date. Reliable poverty data for Malawi dates from 1998 and for Niger from 1993. This lack of data has led to some expected indicators to be dropped from the index.

The data gaps are particularly worrying with respect to the Millennium Development Goals and the international community’s focus on halving poverty by 2015. If we cannot accurately measure poverty, we surely cannot accurately measure our efforts to tackle it.

Despite these constraints we have included in this year’s index the most robust, comprehensive, and current data available. In particular we have focused on ensuring that the index reflects the recent performance of governments so that it can of maximum use to civil society. We have worked to eradicate the “legacy effect” of current administrations’ scores being affected by the successes or failures of their predecessors. For example, our index does not measure miles of paved roads and instead looks at issues related to economic management.

By examining the four categories of Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development we are able to provide a comprehensive assessment of governance.

We are proud of the results. We have been able to overcome obstacles in accessing data and produce an index that justly rewards those countries that are truly well-governed, while shining a harsh light on those that are not.

We have eradicated the bias accorded to police states in which there is little or no crime or unrest because the government operates a police state. By merging our assessments of Safety with the Rule of Law, we are able to take a closer look at issues of security and personal safety. In so doing, we provide a more comprehensive understanding of governance.

A country like Gabon is ranked in the lower half of the index in the category of Safety and Rule of Law because of relatively poor performance in the establishment of mechanisms of justice. On the other end of the spectrum, a country like South Africa - where performance in personal safety is relatively low - ranks well overall because of its strongly-established constitutional mechanisms for personal safety and access to justice. Those that do best in this category provide both safety for their people and access to an equal system of justice.

Similarly, in the area of Participation and Human Rights we have mitigated the impact that simply holding an election can have on a country’s performance by also assessing the quality of elections. We have placed greater emphasis on governments’ commitment to tackling gender imbalance as women contribute disproportionately to family, community, and social life while being afforded fewer rights than men. This means we penalise countries like Niger which have been slow to act on gender issues and reward Tanzania which is moving quickly forward in this area.

We have also refined our assessment of Sustainable Economic Opportunity. For years many of us have argued that the most effective way to boost economic growth and raise living standards in a sustainable way is by improving the investment climate and supporting entrepreneurship. Failing to support and facilitate genuine and inclusive economic growth is the quickest way to drag a country down, as is an overreliance on the profits of resources that often only reach an elite minority.

In this year’s index those countries that truly can be said to have been cursed by mismanaged resources - Gabon; Equatorial Guinea; Angola; Libya; and even my own country Sudan -rightfully perform extremely poorly in the category of Sustainable Economic Opportunity. It is also these same countries which generally fail to accord appropriate priority to rural development (one of the issues we assess under the banner of sustainable economic opportunity). In a continent in which over 65% of the population lives in rural areas, failure to prioritise their specific needs is a failure of governance.

Equally, the index confirms what we already know about instability and governance. It is countries in conflict that rank amongst the lowest on the continent.

Ultimately, our aim is to empower citizens and civil society across Africa to hold their governments to account. Part of this empowerment means also improving the capacity within Africa to measure governance. In time the index will be compiled by academic institutions across the continent that we are certain will provide us with access to more robust and comprehensive data, while also serving to increase African ownership of governance issues. By addressing the greatest challenges that faces us today, governance and leadership, we are truly putting ourselves on the path towards sustainable development.

Dr Mo Ibrahim is the founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation