Governance in Africa: What do the numbers tell us?

Africa’s track record of governance since independence is, at best, mixed. Despite the moderate socio-economic and political progress made since independence, only a few countries have improved their performance relative to those in other parts of the world, and these are mostly recent developments confined to some of the smallest countries on the continent.

According to most measures, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains the least competitive region on the planet, stuck between the ebbs and flows of commodity cycles and global paradigm shifts. Despite enjoying its best decade of economic growth on record from 2002 to 2012, African countries continue to populate the bottom rungs of the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI), which measures key aspects of human progress such as life expectancy, per capita income and education. One in two Africans still live in extreme poverty, and Africa has overtaken Latin America as the most unequal region in the world.

Countless arguments have tried to explain Africa’s lacklustre development record and perennial underperformance on various scores and indices. It was the British economist, Richard M. Auty, who coined the term “resource curse”, linking the endowment of natural resources such as oil and minerals, as we see in many African countries, to slow development, corruption and authoritarianism.

Others have blamed the continent’s underdevelopment on geography, diseases and the legacy of colonialism. In more recent years the development debate has become a sparring contest between two opposing camps: One side, championed by the economist Jeffrey Sachs and celebrities like Bono, advocate for more aid. Others, like famed Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo, insist that development aid is part of a bigger problem, crowding out productive capital and undermining good governance in Africa.

Regardless of which side of the ideological debate or angle of the argument taken, at the heart of it, poor governance has undermined Africa’s socio-economic progress. By falling short on their key obligations, which US political scientist Robert Rotberg calls “political goods”, African governments fail to deliver on security, political participation, the rule of law, and ultimately sustainable economic opportunity and human development.

And through the grand debates, a mixed record of results and a sketchy collection of data and facts, Africa’s overall governance is difficult to measure. Application for policymakers and practitioners seeking an empirical basis for comprehensive competitive performance is even trickier. But new tools with a decent record of annual averages dating back more than a decade can provide better insights through a composite collection mixed with practical observations and experiences on the ground. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) and the GIBS Dynamic Market Index (DMI) are two such measures.

The IIAG is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and robust tools for gauging governance performance in Africa. Funded by the Sudanese-British billionaire Mo Ibrahim, and first published in 2007, the index measures the quality of governance across 54 African countries.

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By Prof Lyal White, Director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets at GIBS, and Adrian Kitimbo, Senior researcher for the Centre.

Picture credit: Mo Ibrahim attends the Social Good Summit. M. Sagliocco/Getty Images.