Work to remedy declining governance in Africa



The Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s annual index (MOI) of African governance quality has recently confirmed other findings that momentum for improved governance across the continent has stagnated. The Foundation’s finding is particularly significant because its index centres only upon Africa, where the other major indices have made the same observation over the last several years base in observing governance performance by most all countries across the globe.

A distinctive feature of the MOI lies in its defining governance more comprehensively that other indices to include the condition of the state itself, the quality of economic development, and the status of human development. In this, more than other indices, like that of the World Bank, the Economic Intelligence Unit and Freedom House, the MOI takes into account of the views of some African leaders, as well as academics, that human rights must include social and economic entitlements as well as specifically democratic political and civil rights. The MOI condenses the 95 indicators into 14 sub-categories, and 4 overall categories, each of which earns a number from 1 to 100.

Over the five year period 2010-2014, inclusive, the overall MOI score for the continent rose slightly from 2010 (51.2) to 2012 (51.7) before declining the last two years to the present 50.1. Interestingly, Kenya’s MOI score has gradually risen over the same period from 54.0 in 2010 to the present 58.8, its rank rising from 21st of 54 countries to 14th. For all Kenya’s manifold and daunting problems, it is heartening to see that, looked at somewhat more dispassionately from a distance, the country is perceived as successfully swimming upstream against a continental tide of lost upward momentum or even stagnation.

Where the MOI’s overall assessment of 25 safety and ruler of law indicators shows a slippage from 52.8 to 51.3 over five years, Kenya’s score increases from 49.5 to 53.8. On rule of law variables, Kenya outstrips the continent’s overall slight improvement, rising from 47.9 to 55.4 in 2013 and a stunning 67.8 in 2014, apparently reflecting at least in part discernment of Chief Justice’s Mutunga’s leadership of the Judiciary. Scores for governmental accountability stand out as one of the two weakest, declining from 39.8 in 2010 to 35.5 in 2014; Kenya again bucks the tide by improving from 38.1 to 44.8. Admittedly, these scores are average, at best, but at least for Kenya they show some improvement.

Given all the problems and controversy over legislation implementing the Constitution, one suspects the MOI assessors may have been more influenced by the aspirations of the Constitution itself, finding marked progress in Kenya on participation and human rights since 2010 from 53.6 and 63.3, mostly in the area of electoral quality, despite the controversy, from 49.5 to 65.7, while they found the continent as a whole to advance only marginally from 48.1 to 49.3.

In sustainable economic opportunity, Kenya’s score rose from 54.0 to 54.9 on the strength of perceived infrastructural improvement, while public management, business environment, and condition of the rural sector all received slightly lower scores for 2014 than 2010. Finally scores in human development increased less than a point to 63 while those for the continent declined to 56.4. Kenya’s scores for educational advancement sagged from 60.2 to 58.3, and those for the continent from 51.3 to 48.8.

Discernment of the reasons for stalled momentum on democratic governance has appeared to lag well behind recognition of the reality itself. The MOI is not in a position to suggest insights in that question since it has been in existence only since the first years of the 21st Century, not during the period of the 1990s that witnessed both sustained and significant democratisation and pervasive post-Cold War era intra-state conflict and instability.

The awarding of the 2015 Nobel Peace prize to the Tunisian quartet of labour, business, legal community, and human rights group collaboration for its role in saving the state from collapse and introducing some democratisation, present troubles notwithstanding, offers one clue: it suggests that progress toward democratic states is, at least in part, a function of crisis and courageous personality, to borrow from the thesis of a distinguished American scholar on what makes great presidents. The Tunisian quartet came together with courage and vision. The same might be said of civil society groups and particular individuals in Kenya during the 1980s and 1990s.

Perhaps it is too early to suggest that the continent’s decade of sustained economic development is not supplying the theoretically predicted push toward democratisation in Africa that it has done historically in industrialised countries. To the extent African experience is in fact not confirming to received theory, several reasons suggest themselves. One, economic development and democratisation in Africa have had to contend with simultaneous manifestations of post-authoritarian state weakness and worse unlike elsewhere, possibly lending citizen acquiescence.

Two, 21st century African economic development may not be shaping social structural formation in ways as conducive to democratisation as in the past elsewhere. Middle classes elsewhere, conscious of themselves as such, acquired a sense of economic independence of the state sufficient to embolden their demands of the state for democracy more than in Africa. Three, heavy reliance on external investment may be corroding middle classes’ sense of their economic sovereignty.

Urgent attention is needed to the causes of, and remedies for, flagging momentum for improved democratic governance.


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