Standards of governance have declined significantly in Madagascar in the past five years, while those in Liberia and Sierra Leone have improved significantly, according to Africa's principal index measuring the quality of the continent's governments.
The rankings of the three countries, together with those for Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, illustrate the assertion of governance experts that economic and social progress needs to be matched by participative government, respect for human rights and accountability for a country truly to prosper.
The rankings for 53 African nations were published Monday in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which now measures changes in quality of governance over a five-year period, from 2006 to 2010.
The index continues to show Mauritius as Africa's best-governed country, with a score of 82, and Somalia the worst-governed country, with a score of 8, on an index of one to 100.
Madagascar, Liberia and Sierra have similar rankings on the index. But while Liberia and Sierra Leone – both vigorous democracies emerging from civil war – have steadily improved their quality of governance, Madagascar – in which instability was followed by an unconstitutional seizure of power in 2009 – has seen a deterioration since 2007.
Togo and Angola have achieved "meaningful improvements" while the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Chad remain among the worst governed.
The index is based on 86 indicators of good governance, grouped into four categories:
- safety and the rule of law (which includes sub-categories such as accountability, personal safety and national security) ;
- participation and human rights (including gender equity);
- sustainable economic opportunity (public management, business environment, infrastructure and the rural sector) ; and
- human development (welfare, education and health) .
The report accompanying the index says Madagascar's decline is "largely driven by statistically significant decreases" in the areas of safety and the rule of law and participation and human rights.
Tunisia and Egypt are ranked as the 9th and 10th best-governed nations in Africa, with high ratings in human development, where Tunisia is Africa's most advanced country, and economic opportunities, where Egypt ranks second.
But until 2010, both were among Africa's lowest-ranked nations judged by public participation in government and respect for human rights, with Egypt in 39th place and Tunisia 42nd.
The index's report on these two countries concludes: "The imbalance between performances in 'human development' and 'participation and human rights' might well have been a trigger for instability."
The report also notes a similar imbalance in Libya, which ranks among Africa's top 10 countries in human development but is in the bottom three for participation and human rights.
"The index illustrates that countries that pursue a balanced approach to all dimensions of governance achieve the most success," says the report. The five best-governed countries over the last five years, as well as those where governance has improved, performed well in all categories.
"But the general trend in Africa is one of imbalance. Many countries have improved in both sustainable economic opportunity and human development, while the majority of countries have regressed in safety and rule of law and participation and human rights."
Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born cellphone pioneer who established the index, said this year's report gave "a complex yet hopeful picture" of governance.
"These findings strongly challenge the narrative that supposes governments should pick and choose which areas to focus on at the expense of others as a natural and unavoidable trade-off of leadership. The events of this year have clearly shown the possible consequences of a skewed focus that selectively denies citizens some of the public goods and services they are entitled to expect."
Expressing concern at the "stagnation, and in many cases the reversal, in the rule of law and citizens' rights", he warned: "If economic progress is not translated into better quality of life and respect for citizens' rights, we will witness more Tahrir Squares in Africa."