Cape Town — Forty of Africa's 55 nations have improved their standards of governance in the past decade, while only 12 have seen a decline. But the rate of improvement has slowed in recent years.
These are the overall conclusions drawn from this year's report of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the continent's most comprehensive survey of a range of benchmarks by which the performance of its governments is judged.
In the past five years the number of countries which have improved their governance has dropped to 34, while the number showing a decline has risen to 20.
The report highlights ten nations which it says are displaying "warning signs" - although governance has improved on average over 10 years, it has declined in the past five. In this category, it cites some of the continent's best-governed as well as badly-governed countries: Mauritius, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Zambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Djibouti, the Republic of Congo and Angola.
Of Angola, the report says: "Having consistently ranked in the bottom 10 (in Africa) since 2000, the country moved out of the bottom 10 in 2012, but has since fallen back amongst the 10 lowest ranking countries on the continent."
In Rwanda and Liberia, the report notes, despite being among the most improved countries over the past decade the rate of progress has slowed in the past five years.
While the report suggests that poor performances by Burundi, Libya and the Central African Republic reflect "ongoing crises" in those nations, it adds: "Worryingly Botswana and Ghana, though still featuring among the top 10 performing countries in 2016, are also the seventh and sixth most deteriorated countries in the last five years."
High-performing countries this year include Cote d'Ivoire, the Seychelles, Namibia, Tunisia and Senegal. Despite a low ranking compared to nearly half the continent, Cote d'Ivoire has made comparatively rapid progress in the past five years. The other four countries, already among the 10 best-governed in Africa, have increased their rate of progress in the past five years.
Three countries have in the past five years reversed a record of deterioration in previous years, showing signs they are "bouncing back" according to the index: South Africa, Mali and, most impressively, Madagascar.
The drawing of comparisons between statistics for the past 10 and five years is the main new innovation of this year's index. Explaining the reason for making the comparisons, the report notes that trends can vary drastically depending on the year analysts choose to base their calculations on.
"Whilst a country can register improvement or decline over the last ten years," the report says, "it may show the opposite trend in the last five years... By evaluating more recent progress on governance alongside long-term performance, the 2017 index provides the most nuanced assessment to date of the evolution and direction that countries, regions and specific dimensions of governance are taking."
The index assesses quality of governance by four broad categories: safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.
Standards are improving on average across Africa in three of these categories, but a steady deterioration in safety and the rule of law is holding back overall progress. Thirty-three countries have experienced a deterioration in the past decade, although the trend has slowed in the past five years, with the number showing a decline dropping to 25.
"The average continental pace of deterioration in the last five years has more than doubled when compared with the last ten, driven by worsening trends in government involvement in armed conflicts and cross-border tensions," the report says.
"In 2007, 43 countries registered the best possible scores in government involvement in armed conflict. In 2016, this number has fallen to just 18."
This year's survey shows that although economic opportunities have improved, progress is slowing and the rural sector in particular has declined in the past five years, "threatening to reverse the progress made over the last decade."
Although more progress has been notched up on average in human development - welfare, education and health - than in any of the other three categories, the index points to warning signs in education.
"Worryingly, in a continent where 41 percent of the population is under 15 years old, progress in education has nearly ground to halt," it says.
"Africans are particularly dissatisfied with how governments are addressing changing educational needs, as reflected by the accelerated pace of decline in the education provision indicator over the last five years."