25 September 2007

Africa: New Governance Index Is 'An African Effort' for Development

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.


The "Ibrahim Index of African Governance" announced in London and Cape Town on Tuesday is a project of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which was established as part of the vision of leading African businessman Mo Ibrahim. He spoke to Katy Gabel of allAfrica.com.

How was the index prepared? What sort of people were on the research teams, and how did Africans participate?

The index was prepared totally independently by the Kennedy School of Government. We gave the project to what we saw as the foremost academic institution working in the area of governance. It was led by Professor Robert Rotberg and his researchers…

We also had a supervisory – an advisory – committee comprised of about twelve [people] - mainly academics - from Africa to advise the Kennedy School of Government. We had people from Kenya, from Zambia, from Malawi, from Sudan, from South Africa, etc., really acknowledged, good people to help with the direction of the project. We have the cooperation of many institutions – we had NGOs, think tanks, who were kind enough and supportive enough, because there was no point in re-inventing the wheel here. We are very grateful to the United Nations, to the World Bank, the IMF, the WHO, Unicef, Transparency International, Freedom House…for all the organizations which collect a certain amount of data and give it to us.

So we're able to collect data and we're able to really construct – when I say we, I mean the academics at Harvard – a comprehensive set of data and verify and fill in the gaps. They [the team of academics] sent some people to some capitals to fill in gaps. They communicated with government statistical offices – it was really a measured effort to try to get the most accurate set of data possible for Africa.

Why is this index important?

The value of the index will be more and more apparent as we go and build the databases year after year. For example, this year we'll be using 2002 through 2005. In coming years, you will be able to trace countries as they move up or as they fall. What matters, really, is not where you are on the table, but where you are going.

If you are the leader of a country at the bottom of the table, and in five years you move up on the table, then you have done something great. Your course is much better than someone who started at number four and ended up at four again, or five. Nothing happened there.

Are you confident that these rankings reflect how effective governance is?

It must be. Because me, as a person – I have no opinion about who is better or worse. I am not a politician. I am not in politics. I'm just a citizen. It is interesting for me to know who is doing better than the others.

…We all have our perceptions. I go to visit a country, I end up in a five-star hotel in a nice city and I'm driven there and taken back and I say, "Wow, this is a wonderful country, it's safe." But I've been looked after. Is the country really safe? How do we get the facts away from perception?

As such, what comes, comes. What we need to make sure is that all the numbers are correct. We're inviting every government and every institution in Africa to please, if they disagree with any number, please correct us. Please meet with our people. We're going to pay attention and we will verify. Each number here is clearly defined – where it came from, how to source each sub-category [of data]. If anybody disagrees with a number, please come forward and we will have a discussion. We will have a discussion with the academics, and we will facilitate that to make sure that mistakes, if any, will be corrected, because we have no interest in publishing a wrong number. Not only numbers, even methodology. We have 58 sub-categories – maybe some people will suggest we should have more.

Some of the results are surprising ...

What is happening here is that there are so many components to this [and] the different components can measure differently … For example, if safety and security of individuals is [measured], it is quite possible that in Zimbabwe you have a better safety score than in Nigeria – I'm just thinking [of possible reasons]. I can look here at the table and see that Nigeria is scoring with 62 in security and Zimbabwe with 75. Sometimes in dictatorships you have high security and street safety, for example. People might be very safe, in that sense…petty crimes and violence, I mean. So it depends what areas you're measuring on.

I think that what really matters here is… where people are moving. If you look at 2002 and 2005, you can see the rises and falls [in overall ranking]. I'm sure Zimbabwe has been falling there like a stone. Don't forget that Zimbabwe was quite a developed country, with good, developed networks and it had telecommunications – it had cellular way before Nigeria had it. There are certain things there which were happening, but then there was a steep fall over time. Also, don't forget this is data for 2005. When we have the data for 2006 and 2007 I think you will see more changes.

Are all sub-categories given equal weight?

As far as I know, all the data in the categories and sub-categories was weighted equally except in the area of security where some data was more reliable than other data and [the team] weighted one or two sub-categories. But in all other areas everything was weighted equally. That was my understanding.

Does this index account for the unequal status of some countries – for example, a country which has been through a war, or one which has been the beneficiary of preferential trade agreements?

No – we are trying to stay away from political relationships or judgments. What we're trying to say is that at the end, governance is reflected in what is delivered to people. If you have a good trade agreement, for example, hopefully that will reduce prices and help exports, etc. and [so] that will be captured by other measurements.

We are not commenting on the policies. We are trying to take a snapshot of what's happening [between] certain years for everybody. We're measuring things - telecommunications, water, electricity – how many people have [access to] these things. It all comes under sustainable economic development.

Policies should reflect in goods delivered to people. We're trying to capture it [this way] instead of going through this endless discussion about policies - what is good, what is bad – which becomes, at the end of the day, very subjective.

Given that this year's data only spans the past five years, to what extent do you expect the index to inform that decision of the committee which will select the forthcoming "Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership"?

That is a very good question. It will give [them] some ideas, but some of the leaders they are considering might have started way before that. This is unavoidable because we cannot go back in history and reinvent data. That data doesn't exist – it's not available.

…What I expect is that the Prize Committee - which I'm not a member of, by the way, but is comprised of a number of very wise and experienced people – [will be] able to use their judgment to augment what information they can glean from this paper and select the winner.

[Soon] the job will be easier, because you're going to have more and more data on the past and you'll be able to trace changes. You really need to see the index as a project in progress. The true value of this complete index will become very apparent before maybe five or seven years, when we can look back and see the development of data.

How can this index help international organizations, regional organizations, and even civil society groups?

It's really a genuine piece of work which people should pay attention to because it will help. If people study this information, it will help. It will help both governments and civil society. It is not meant as a means to shame or to point a finger … because we have no interest in doing that. It's just an objective way to say, "Guys, here is a snapshot of what's happening in all its detail. Have a look and see what we can do with this."

Do you hope that the index will replace other measurements currently used by aid agencies and donor countries?

We are not really doing this for Western governments or donors. We exist for Africans. This is an African effort. Our foundation is an African foundation. What we really care about is African civil society and African governance.

We hope that what we have here is the basis of an objective and rational dialogue so that [all parties] can have a meaningful dialogue. People can ask, "Why are we moving up here?" or "Why are we moving down here?" "That country next door managed to improve health. Let's see what they have done and we can learn from them." It could be a nice tool. That's really what we'd like to have happen – that the African people themselves use this data to see how they can move forward.

More on This

Governance Index Is a Work in Progress, Rotberg Says

Dr. Robert Rotberg, professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told AllAfrica about the index he is working on… Read more »

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