Rule of law declines for 70% of Africans over past decade, warns Ibrahim index

A schoolroom in a Zambia village.

Governance across Africa has seen minimal improvement over the past decade, held back by widespread deterioration in safety and rule of law, according to a report published on Monday (3 October).

Since 2006, according to the Ibrahim index of African governance, the most comprehensive survey of its kind, 37 out of 54 African nations – home to 70% of African citizens – saw an overall improvement of just one point, measured against four categories including security, human rights, economic stability and human development.

Mauritius came top, followed by Botswana, Cape Verde, the Seychelles and Namibia. But three out of the top 10 countries have seen their scores fall in this period, including South Africa and Ghana, which registered some of the largest drops.

However, the index identified a worrying downward trend in the safety and rule of law category: 33 out of the 54 nations had experienced a decline over the decade, almost half of them (15) “quite substantially”, it said. Among the top 10 overall rated countries, six had deteriorated in this category, with South Africa the worst. South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised country, has been on the edge of a recession, with chronic power shortages and high unemployment.

Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Ethiopia, nations in which records on human rights and freedom of expression continue to give cause for concern internationally, were ranked among the top 10 improving African countries in terms of overall governance since 2006, mainly due to advances in the rural sector. However, despite gains, Zimbabwe (a 9.7-point increase) still ranked in the bottom half for overall governance, coming 39th out of 54 countries. Rwanda (8.4-point increase) was the only country to feature among the ten most improved and the ten highest scoring.

Ivory Coast showed the most progress in overall governance since 2006, recording a 13-point improvement over the last decade, followed by Togo (9.7) and Zimbabwe (also 9.7). Liberia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Niger, Morocco, Kenya and Angola made up the remaining top 10 improvers.

The Ibrahim index, first published in 2007, annually measures and monitors governance performance across the African continent, using various data sources, with the aim of assessing progress and supporting effective policies.

Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese-born telecoms businessman, founder and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said the improvement reflected a positive trend for two-thirds of citizens, but that the biggest challenges were security. Quoted in the report, Ibrahim said: “All four components which make up Safety and Rule of Law have deteriorated … This is holding back the continent’s progress and remains the biggest challenge in future.”

Speaking at the report’s launch, Professor Ngaire Woods, the dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, said that it was too easy for people to say that positive gains were modest. “They are gains and in places where we didn’t think gains could be made. I remember 10 years ago, when people were saying this wasn’t going to be possible.”

Woods said that they had seen improvements in the rural sector across the continent, as well as improvements in women’s empowerment, if not in their economic empowerment.

“The two downward trends are national security and rule of law. The national security one is really important and a big part of that is Libya. The implosion of Libya has unleashed a whole new set of challenges for countries like Mali, for Nigeria, Niger.”

The three worst deteriorations in governance over the decade were in Libya (-18 points since 2006), Madagascar (-7.6) and Eritrea (-5.6). Libya has deteriorated from the middle of 2006’s rankings to 51 (out of 54) in 2015. Each of these countries also recorded deterioration in safety and rule of law.

Bottom place in the overall index was taken by Somalia, with South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Libya making up the remainder of the five nations ranking lowest.

The African continent records a troubling deterioration of 10.6 points in human trafficking, and 8.7 on the corruption and bureaucracy indices. This particular indicator is provided by World Bank data and measures the likelihood of encountering corrupt public officials, as well as the amount of red tape and intrusiveness of bureaucracy in the nation. Nearly half the continent – 24 countries – ranked at their lowest scores yet in the past decade, with 15 nations declining by more than 20 points since 2006.

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