Current Affairs

Public faith in African governance at 10-year low – Ibrahim Index

Public faith in African governance at 10-year low – Ibrahim Index
  • PublishedDecember 17, 2020

This year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance has found that citizens’ trust in governance has deteriorated sharply. Indeed, overall standards of governance in Africa declined in 2019 for the first time since 2010. What has caused this drop in performance? Neil Ford reports.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), which assesses governance performance in 54 African countries, reports that overall governance standards have dropped for the first time in a decade. It found falling performance in three of the four broad categories assessed: Participation, Rights & Inclusion; Security & Rule of Law; and Human Development – although continued improvement was recorded in the fourth category, Foundations for Economic Opportunity.

The IIAG was set up by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2007 to promote meaningful change on the continent by providing the tools to support progress in political leadership and public governance.

The Foundation defines governance as “the provision of political, social, economic and environmental public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their government, and that a government has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens”.

It positions itself between the academic world, civil society, the private sector and policy makers.

Each country is given an annual score out of 100 on a wide range of different factors within each of the four main categories, which are collated to produce a national score. These are then used to produce a continental score, which can be used to compare longer-term trends between countries and across the continent as a whole.

The Index aims to support good governance by providing accurate, comparable and easy to understand data. The methodology used to calculate IIAG scores was originally built with the Kennedy School of Governance at Harvard University but has been improved and adjusted by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation itself. Improvements to this year’s IIAG include an expansion of the governance scope by taking in new areas such as environment and equality; it has stronger indicators, thanks to better data availability; and introduced a new section dedicated to African Citizens’ Voices.

Yet while it has increased its coverage of areas and also the number of variables composing the Index, the number of indicators has been reduced to make it clearer and easier to understand.

Public approval lowest ever

The 2019 average African score for overall governance fell by 0.2 points from 49.0 in 2018 to 48.8 for 2019, while the Index found that overall progress on governance has slowed since 2015.

Although the Economic Opportunity and Human Development sectors did continue to improve in 2019, these gains are likely to be threatened by the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decline in performance is not merely an academic calculation. The Citizens’ Voices section of the 2020 IIAG – which provides a full ‘reality check’ assessing citizens’ perceptions and satisfaction with public services – shows the lowest score in public perception of overall governance for any year over the past decade. 

Between 2010 and 2019, Afrobarometer surveyed 39 African countries, providing a sample of public perception to provide data for the Citizens’ Voices section. The 2019 ratings by the African public in all four categories – Participation, Rights & Inclusion; Security & Rule of Law; Human Development; and Foundations for Economic Opportunity – were the lowest of any year yet.

There is clearly a view among the general public that standards of governance are falling. However, it is important to notes that the Citizens’ Voices results are not counted in the calculation of IIAG scores, as they are not geographically comprehensive.

Over the past decade

Tracking developments over the past decade, overall governance has improved slightly but progress is very slow. The overall score has increased from 47.6 in 2010 to 48.8 for 2019.

Yet this overall 1.2 improvement masks a wide range of variations between categories. Foundations for Economic Opportunity has made a substantial improvement of 4.1, while Human Development improved by 3.0. Particularly good improvements were recorded in the sub-categories Infrastructure and Health, and Sustainable Environment.

However, worrying declines have been recorded over the past decade in Participation, Rights & Inclusion (-1.4) and Security & Rule of Law (-0.7).

Very generally speaking, socio-economic factors have improved significantly but perturbing deterioration has been recorded in political and security governance.

There are also big geographical differences. Countries containing 38.8% of Africa’s population have recorded falls in governance performance over the past decade. Only eight countries improved in all four categories over the decade: Angola, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Seychelles, Sudan and Togo.

Participation was the third-lowest scoring of the 16 IIAG subcategories in 2019 and has suffered the biggest decline of any sub-category since 2015.

This is because African citizens have had progressively less freedom to associate and assemble freely, with the situation deteriorating more quickly since 2015. In addition, political parties are less able to operate freely and have less equitable access to state-owned media and public financing campaigns.

The report produces detailed scorecards for each country. Mauritius is the top  ranked country with a score of 77.2, although even that represents a 0.5 fall since 2010. Indeed it is interesting that the top three ranked countries are all island nations, with Mauritius followed by Cabo Verde and Seychelles. Tunisia, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Senegal and Morocco complete the top 10.

The bottom five ranked countries in descending order are Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia, although Somalia’s score of 19.2 is a 5.7% increase on 2010, representing some level of improvement for that troubled country.

The biggest improvements over the decade were registered in Gambia, with a 9.2 improvement, Côte d’Ivoire with 9.0 and Tunisia with 8.2. Libya experienced the largest deterioration with 5.5.

The impact of Covid-19

The pandemic has highlighted the big gap in Africa’s health systems, both in terms of data collection and treatment and it has also triggered a major economic crisis. “Furthermore, it has contributed to a declining democratic environment, increasing food insecurity, as well as instability and violence, including gender-based,” according to this year’s IIAG.

Covid-19 has had an impact on Participation, Rights & Inclusion, with some scheduled elections postponed and measures to contain the virus used to conceal interference with ongoing election preparation and monitoring as well as to restrict civic space, according to the report. However, it argues that the average situation across the continent was deteriorating even before the crisis began.

In addition, the coronavirus triggered increased repression in some countries that were implementing lockdown rules, affecting Security & Rule of Law. The economic impact of Covid-19 in Africa has been dramatic and there is limited capacity at national or regional levels to mitigate its effects. The crisis threatens to reverse the economic progress that has been made over the past decade.

Mo Ibrahim, Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist, said: “Citizens’ dissatisfaction and mistrust with governance delivery are growing.” 

Written By
Neil Ford

Neil is a journalist, writer, editor and consultant, specialising in international and African affairs.

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