26 October 2006

Africa: Governance Index Is a Work in Progress, Rotberg Says

Photo: PHOTOESSAY: Release of the African Governance Index 2009

Mo Ibrahim, the founder and chair of the foundation at the news conference. The foundation is committed to supporting African leadership that will improve the economic and social prospects of the people of Africa.

interview

Washington, DC — Dr. Robert Rotberg, professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told AllAfrica about the index he is working on that will be used, among other purposes, to guide the selection committee of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Excerpts:

Beginning in 1999, maybe 1998, I began working with my Kennedy School graduate students in creating the governance index by using proxy measures to develop an index, not only for Africa, but for the entire world. All of those were student efforts guided by me, and none of them had the professional status nor the professional time that would enable all the statistical issues as well as the evidence issues to be worked out. Now we will have an opportunity – beginning the first of next month – to spend several years, maybe longer, perfecting the index methodology and applying it directly to the 48 sub-Saharan African countries.

Because the Mo Ibrahim Foundation is going to provide the resources.

That's part one. Part two is that Mo Ibrahim wants to use the results of our rigorous efforts to provide a credible underpinning for the Ibrahim African leadership prize.

What statistics will you be looking at?

The eight indicators are: security, rule of law, economic opportunity, political freedom – those are the important four and they're weighted more heavily than the second four, which are: educational services, health services, arteries of commerce, that is, infrastructure, and finally, empowering civil society. Those eight measurements comprise how we measure governance because that's how political goods are delivered to us as citizens. We can apply this same methodology to a city's government as well as to an African state.

How would you compare this to other measures of governance that are out there?

There aren't any. This is the only one. There's a World Bank thing, but it doesn't rank countries and it doesn't use these quite clear and transparent measures of governance. It doesn't use the political goods methodology. It uses some other method, and the big difference that people at the Bank and I have discussed at great length is we're trying to use objective measures, so there's no selection bias. By that I mean we won't use subjective measures, [such as] people's opinions.

What about the Millennium Challenge Account?

The Millennium Challenge Account is good as far as it goes, but they'll be better off using our measures when they're perfected. The Millennium Challenge Account uses Freedom House in part. Freedom House is based on interviews and opinions, including my own, about countries. There's a selection bias. Transparency International, which I revere and think is fabulous, also is based on interviews and public opinion. Index of Freedom done by the Cato Institute, again, it bases everything on opinion. What we're trying to do is go to objective measures.

What are some of the objective measures for things like rule of law or empowering civil society?

Let's take some easy ones first. There are two important things: one is that we're measuring outputs or outcomes, not inputs. To take infrastructure, you do something very simple. You compare miles of paved roadway at Time X versus Time Y. That's straightforward. That's a quantitative method. It doesn't depend on anyone's opinion. That's the simplest of all, because you can see Botswana has 1,000 times the road network that it had at independence, and Congo has 1,000 times less. You can use those as two benchmarks.

In health, you can use things like infant mortality and life expectancy. You know that Africa has HIV/Aids, so you can say, let's do this against health outcomes 15 years ago before there was Aids. You can do all kinds of comparisons. In education, you can look at persistence in school, that is, how many kids go from primary school to secondary school, and how many stay in school. Those are all measures that are, in a sense, proxy measures. In economic opportunity, you can use GDP growth. You can use raw GDP. You can use Gini coefficients. You can use all kinds of measures. There's something the IMF uses which shows how much money in the system is actually in the system or is actually in mattresses. It's called "contract effectiveness." You can use that.

But you get to security, you probably want to look at the number of violent incidents per year. If you want to look at the rule of law, you probably want to see the number of political prisoners. But I must caution you that these measures are not final yet. They're ones that my students and I have worked on, but we're now going to go from the alpha test to the beta test, and we may come up with even better measures, and reject some of the ones I've just mentioned.

How will you measure political freedom and empowering civil society?

Political freedom is freedom of expression, so you can do that very easily: how many journalists have been killed? How many are in jail? What's censorship like? You can do that with a pretty straightforward measure. If you look at the way elections are held or not held, you can look at freedom of assembly too, those key political freedoms. [We never use] the word "democracy," because we don't want to bias the sample by saying something is more democratic than not. We reject the Freedom House simplicity of "free," "partly free," and "not free," because that's too crude. We ultimately want to suggest that in Botswana there's more political freedom than in, say, South Africa. We can show those quantitatively because each of these eight indicators has, say, four to six sub-indicators. You might get 50 numbers floating around for any country.

Regardless, the real point is to quantify or make things objective as much as possible as opposed to relying on interviews.

Yes. This isn't quantification for quantification's sake. This is quantification so that people can follow the trail so it's totally transparent, and – second big point -- so that it's diagnostic. Malawi can say, "We thought we were better than Zambia, but we're ranked lower than Zambia. How come?" And they could just go down the chart and they could see that Zambia, say, was better at educational persistence. [Then] civil society in Malawi can beat up on the government and say, "Let's improve our educational standing."

Since the index is looking at the country level, have you talked with Mo Ibrahim or others at the foundation about how that will be applied to individual leaders?

The way I look at it, and it's still under discussion, is that good leaders produce good outcomes. If you have bad leaders, your numbers are going downhill. If you have good leaders, your numbers are going uphill. This means even if a country is at number 24, but if it was at number 28, it means that leadership is doing something, even if it's not at the top of the total heap. It's much improved. The leader may be stuck with a country that is really badly endowed or has had some national catastrophes, but you can see its progress over the leader's eight-year period in office.

How will it work if a leader has good health or economic outcomes, but is very authoritarian in office?

You'll be able to see it. Let's say [a country] shows up well in education, health, civil society, road network and economic opportunity. It may be that security will show lower numbers. Rule of law might show lower numbers and rule of law might show the lowest possible numbers.

How much will your choices of indicator be based on how solid you think those numbers are?

How solid the numbers are is a very big issue. There are statistical ways of saying, ok, we have really [poor] numbers in this area, but the other numbers are ok, so you can figure out a way to do that. In many of these cases, a lot of the numbers will be suspect, so we'll have to maybe go into these countries and try to get some numbers.

You'll have a staff for that?

A couple staff people and myself. Not a big operation, because we don't think we need a big team. We may be wrong. We may have to go out and recruit.

But you'll continue teaching?

Oh, yes. The methodology is down. There's a Washington Quarterly article of 2004. There's a web site and another report that spells it out at greater length. That's how Ibrahim found me. He actually read my stuff and came to me.

When will the index be ready?

The hope, but not the promise, is June or July.

What insights have you gained from the process so far in terms of measuring governance?

What I'm trying to do is analogous to what Transparency International did brilliantly. Transparency International in the '90s brought corruption out of the closet. Corruption was not even mentioned by the World Bank in the '80s. People were afraid to call a country corrupt. Transparency International pulled that out of the closet and we hope to do exactly the same thing: bring governance out of the closet. In terms of what we've learned, we've learned that there are some huge informational issues, but we think it's capable of producing a good index and then a better one the following year and so on.

Do you hope it will be used, not only by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, but also by governments and donors?

My hope is that this would be a model for driving investors' decisions, driving donor decisions, driving the Millennium Challenge Account, driving all kinds of policy decisions: that's why I invented it. And, ultimately, if it works for a difficult place like Africa, we ought to have the same thing for Asia, the same thing for Latin America, and ultimately for the entire world. There ought to be rankings that show, say, Finland and Iceland on top and some of the basket cases on the bottom.

I think the index will provide Africans and donors and investors and civil society and so on with a tool to strengthen African governance. That's the main hope. The second hope is that it will make it possible, together with the Ibrahim prize, to strengthen African leadership, which badly needs strengthening.

What do you hope will make this different from previous indices in the sense that perhaps it measures governance marginally better, but could still be dismissed, because people say the numbers aren't good or the methodology is flawed?

You can't so easily dismiss an objective index as you can a subjective index. A subjective index, you can say, "Oh, it's just people's opinions." This will have nobody's opinions.

But, say you're measuring health, education and infrastructure in Cote d'Ivoire. As objective as you try to be, those numbers could certainly be argued in terms of whether they're accurate.

They can be argued about whether they're accurate, but people can only say, "You didn't get the right numbers." And, yes, that may be true, so we'll do them over again. But they can't say the notion of counting educational persistence doesn't make any sense, because they'd have to then make an argument that the future of the Ivory Coast doesn't depend on education. I think we will at least establish a dialogue between people in-country who are rated low and people outside who are rating them low, as to why and how, and what the best measures are. And that's great because maybe these measures can be improved upon. I don't doubt that they can be and through getting everything out there we'll have what intellectuals like to do, which is to have a full dialogue.

What will the African input into the index be?

We don't know this yet, but there could be African researchers actually compiling the index. As we move along, we will certainly have critics and friends in Africa, and we will draw on their work. I would love this to spawn a whole series of competing ways of doing the same thing, because out of that would come an improved method of strengthening African governance. The ultimate aim is improving life in Africa on the ground.

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