Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

12 October 2011

Africa: Mo Ibrahim Prize - It's Good Governance, Not the Size of a Country That Matters

Photo: Mo Ibrahim Foundation
The darker the shading, the better the quality of governance in a country, according to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

analysis

On Monday 10 October the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, through its Prize Committee, announced Cape Verdean former President Pedro Verona Pires as the winner of the 2011 Ibrahim prize for Achievement in African leadership. The announcement was made at the same time the Foundation published its Index on the state of governance in Africa. In a nutshell, there is really nothing new in the report to celebrate. There is no new African success story, with the usual suspects, Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, the Seychelles and South Africa maintaining their positions of good performers. The Index is based on four categories of governance: Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development.

In fact, some countries have remained consistent in their position as the worst governed while others, even among the better performing countries, face tremendous challenges in delivering the required range of public goods and services to their citizens. South Africa's performance, for instance, is still overshadowed by a weak score on personal safety of its citizens that makes the country slip to fifth place in spite of its high score in public management and business environment.

Yet Mo Ibrahim stirred debate in announcing that Pires was the unanimous winner of the 2011 Award for his leadership. For some, this award came as a surprise. However, to those who have been following the events in Cape Verde over the past two decades, it is a well-deserved recognition of the national leadership and efforts to transform the country and the lives of its people. According to the Prize Committee, it was important to reward President Pires' vision "in transforming Cape Verde into a model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity." Cape Verde has ranked consistently among the best two countries on the Ibrahim Index over the last four years and Pires stepped down in early September this year after completing his second and last term in office, resisting the pressure from his party to amend the constitution and stand for office again. For the past two years, the prize committee was at pains to find an outstanding candidate for the prize, raising concerns about the quality of the African leadership and the continent's governance profile.

Cape Verde's achievement and mostly, Pires's vision, stemmed from the socio-economic difficulties and political instability that had marred the early post-independence years of the country. Under his leadership, there developed a vision of democratic consolidation accompanied by sound socio-economic improvement. Cape Verde has performed relatively well in the four areas earmarked by the MO Foundation. The country is seen as free by Freedom House, which has assigned it a rating of 1 out of 7 for political rights and 1 out of 7 for civil rights in 2010. The lower the rating the higher the degree of political and civil liberties. It is acknowledged that Cape Verde is the only African nation with such a rating for both political and civil rights.

On the socio-economic front, Cape Verde's economy rose at an annual average rate of 6.2% between 2000 and 2009. This compares to advances of 3.9% for Senegal, 3.9% for Mauritania and 5.0% for Gambia. According to the IMF, the per capita income in 2009 was $3,445. This was 181% above the level of 2000. Indeed, the Prize Committee rightly points out that under Pires' ten years as president, Cape Verde became only the second African country to graduate from the United Nation's Least Developed category and has won international recognition for its record on human right and good governance.

Interestingly a majority the best performers on the Mo Ibrahim Index, are Islands (Mauritius, Cape Verde and Seychelles) and it is debatable whether there is a kind of "geographical explanation" to their consistent success. It is as if good governance can only work outside the continent and on its offshore islands. What we learn here is that while the size of the country might be important in addition to its demography and resources, it not necessarily the reason that explains (non) performance. Larger countries like Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to suffer from domestic challenges but the problem is not really about their size. It is more about commitment to the ideals of good governance. The decision to grant the independence of the electoral commission has helped Nigeria hold one of the less rigged electoral processes in its post-independence political history. A similar stance on corruption might have a positive impact on a fair redistribution of available resources.

One of the key challenges facing the "big" countries is the absence of a genuine commitment to good governance and a dearth of leaders who rise above the internal contradictions of their immediate surrounding to deliver public goods to their citizens. Beyond the size, it is more about coherent leadership, efforts at mobilizing resources, and effectiveness of public policies and actions that matter the most. For Cape Verde, it is useful to indicate that being recognized for excellent leadership is not the end of the road and should not lead to complacency. The Mo Ibrahim Award should be seen as an invitation to further improvement.

Indeed, despite Cape Verde's political, economic and social stability, the country still has to contend with numerous challenges. Cape Verde has meagre economic resources upon which to base its economic development projects compounded by its erratic rainfall patterns. These challenges, among others, have led to a greater number of the population leaving the country in search of better economic opportunities. To be sustainable, the democratisation process in the country needs to be accompanied by economic reforms that will translate the economic goods into better living conditions of the people. Also, in terms of corruption, Cape Verde scored 5.1 and ranked 40 out of 180 countries. According to Transparency International, a score of less than 3.0 out of 10.0 indicates there still is "rampant" corruption.

  • David Zounmenou, Senior Researcher, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

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