Africa’s decade of ‘lost op­por­tu­nity’

The 2018 Mo Ibrahim African gov­er­nance in­dex was re­leased this week. It’s not good news

Mail & Guardian - - Africa - Si­mon Al­li­son

The Ibrahim In­dex of African Gov­er­nance, now in its 11th it­er­a­tion, is the most com­pre­hen­sive mea­sure of gov­er­nance on the con­ti­nent. It makes for thor­oughly de­press­ing read­ing.

“Pub­lic gov­er­nance progress in Africa is lag­ging be­hind the needs and ex­pec­ta­tions of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, com­posed mainly of young peo­ple,” the foun­da­tion said.

Mo Ibrahim, the Su­danese tele­coms bil­lion­aire-turned-bene­fac­tor, was even more blunt. “The lost op­por­tu­nity of the past decade is deeply con­cern­ing. Africa has a huge chal­lenge ahead. Its large and youth­ful po­ten­tial work­force could trans­form the con­ti­nent for the bet­ter, but this op­por­tu­nity is close to be­ing squan­dered. The ev­i­dence is clear — young cit­i­zens of Africa need hope, prospects and op­por­tu­ni­ties. Its lead­ers need to speed up job cre­ation to sus­tain progress and stave off de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. The time to act is now.”

The un­usu­ally strong lan­guage from Ibrahim and his foun­da­tion is dic­tated by the re­sults of this year’s in­dex, which are a sober­ing illustration of how lit­tle progress has been made in the past decade. The “over­all gov­er­nance” cat­e­gory has im­proved by just 1% and this neg­li­gi­ble progress masks alarm­ing de­te­ri­o­ra­tions in other ar­eas.

Most con­cern­ing is the con­ti­nent’s eco­nomic per­for­mance, or lack thereof. “Since 2008, the African av­er­age score for sus­tain­able eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity has in­creased by 0.1 point, or 0.2%, de­spite a con­ti­nen­tal in­crease in GDP [gross do­mes­tic prod­uct] of nearly 40% over the same pe­riod. There has been vir­tu­ally no progress in cre­at­ing sus­tain­able eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, mean­ing it re­mains the Ibrahim in­dex’s worst-per­form­ing and slow­est-im­prov­ing cat­e­gory.”

In other words, eco­nomic growth has not trans­lated into bet­ter eco­nomic con­di­tions for the ma­jor­ity of Africans.

An­other dispir­it­ing trend is that in more than half of African coun­tries, ed­u­ca­tion scores are get­ting worse. What this means in prac­tice is that chil­dren are re­ceiv­ing less ed­u­ca­tion than be­fore, and the teach­ing is of a lower stan­dard. Given that Africa’s pop­u­la­tion is over­whelm­ingly youth­ful — about 50% of Africans are un­der the age of 18, ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Emer­gency Fund — this does not bode well for the fu­ture.

Nor does it help that life is get­ting tougher for the peo­ple who are try­ing to make things bet­ter.

“Alarm­ingly, cit­i­zens’ po­lit­i­cal and civic space in Africa is shrink­ing, with wors­en­ing trends in in­di­ca­tors mea­sur­ing civil so­ci­ety par­tic­i­pa­tion, civil rights and lib­er­ties, free- dom of ex­pres­sion, and free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion and assem­bly.”

In a rare glim­mer of good news, this is off­set by pos­i­tive gains in par­tic­i­pa­tion and hu­man rights, a cat­e­gory that in­cludes elec­tions, where al­most four out of five Africans live in a coun­try that has im­proved over the past decade.

At a coun­try level, the in­dex is topped, as usual, by three is­land na­tions: Mau­ri­tius, Sey­chelles and Cape Verde. The big­gest im­prover over the past 10 years is Côte D’Ivoire, now in 22nd place, closely fol­lowed (some­what con­tro­ver­sially) by Zim­babwe, which has im­proved by 10.8 points but still lan­guishes at the tail end of the in­dex in 39th place.

The worst-gov­erned coun­try is So­ma­lia, closely fol­lowed by South Su­dan, Libya, Eritrea and the Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic. Libya has slid the most since 2008, los­ing 15.6 points, thanks to the chaotic un­seat­ing of Muam­mar Gaddafi and the civil war that fol­lowed.

The con­ti­nent’s two largest economies have re­mained rel­a­tively sta­ble. Gov­er­nance in South Africa has de­te­ri­o­rated, but not by as much as some of the gov­ern­ment’s crit­ics may have ex­pected. South Africa has lost just 0.6 points over the decade, and is ranked the sev­enth-best gov­erned coun­try in Africa, al­though the num­bers in­di­cate a marked de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the sub­cat­e­gories of per­sonal safety, and trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.

Nige­ria, in 33rd place, has posted a 2.8 point in­crease on its 2008 score, with big gains in health, in­fra­struc­ture and par­tic­i­pa­tion. These were off­set by a dra­matic de­crease in na­tional safety, largely thanks to the on­go­ing Boko Haram in­sur­gency.

How­ever you read the num­bers, the bot­tom line is that Africa’s lead­ers have to do bet­ter.

“Our con­ti­nent is faced with un­prece­dented de­mo­graphic growth. Key gov­er­nance ar­eas are not pro­gress­ing fast enough to keep up with ris­ing de­mands, and more specif­i­cally to an­swer the grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of Africa’s youth, who are now form­ing the ma­jor­ity of our con­ti­nent, and still ex­pected to rise by al­most 20% in the next decade,” Ibrahim said.

“This is a huge missed op­por­tu­nity. It could be­come a recipe for dis­as­ter. With the ex­pected pop­u­la­tion growth, Africa stands at a tipping point, and the next years will be cru­cial.”

Doom and gloom: The on­go­ing civil war in Libya that fol­lowed Muam­mar Gaddafi’s demise has seen the coun­try de­te­ri­o­rate the most in terms of gov­er­nance and slide to 51 out of 54 coun­tries on the Ibrahim in­dex. Photo: Goran To­ma­se­vic /Reuters

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