Cape Town — Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where governance has improved most in the four years up to 2014. Senegal just might surge ahead of its African counterparts in the future, to become one of the continent's powerhouses. Developments in Somalia, long the worst-governed country in Africa, can be described as "a good news story".
These are just some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the latest edition of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance which fly in the face of what might be called "conventional wisdom" about the continent.
While the index's identification of trends enables broad generalisations to be drawn, "Africa is not a country," says Mo Ibrahim, whose foundation oversees its compilation.
He adds: "The scores and trends seen in the 54 individual countries on the continent are diverse, each showing specific patterns in their own right, along a wide range of results, with more than a 70 point gap between the top ranking country, Mauritius, and the bottom ranking country, Somalia."
AllAfrica, helped by the index's director, Elizabeth McGrath, has tried to look beyond the averages to provide more detailed snapshots about how some key African governments are performing.
Most improved nations
The five countries whose governance improved most between 2011 and 2014 were Cote d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Kenya and Togo.
The "most comprehensive improvements" were achieved in Cote d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Senegal, says McGrath, judged by advances in all four major categories of the index: participation in government; human development - education, health and welfare services; safety and the rule of law; and the provision of sustainable economic opportunities.
Cote d'Ivoire is in the lower half of a list of Africa's best-governed nations - 35th among 54 countries - but its record as that which achieved the most progress comes with its recovery from the post-election conflict of 2010 and 2011.
It not only improved its performance in the main categories in the index, but in all 14 sub-categories which make them up - an "incredibly rare" achievement, in McGrath's words.
It notched up the greatest gains in Africa in the area of personal safety, and huge gains - 66 points on an index of 100 - in reducing political violence. Participation in government improved substantially but freedom of association and the number of women in politics declined.
In strong contrast to the general trend across the continent, Cote d'Ivoire grew its road network more than any country other than Morocco.
But its support for rural development and business declined.
Zimbabwe, says McGrath, "is benefitting from a sustained period of stability," but she notes that "it's much easier to improve if you are coming off a low base" - despite its improvements, its ranking remains low, at 44th place escaping the 10 worst-ruled nations by only one place.
Also, the government's accountability has deteriorated since 2011, with its achievements in combating public sector corruption plunging to the worst possible score - a zero - in 2014.
The government's record in establishing an environment conducive to business also declined, perhaps a harbinger of the trend reported by the International Monetary Fund on October 3, which says that in 2015 "growth has slowed, unemployment is rising and economic activity is increasingly shifting to the informal sector.
Senegal's achievements as the country which showed the third-best improvement on the continent is enhanced by the fact that its progress comes off a high base as the ninth best-governed country in Africa.
This progress is shown most dramatically by the consequences of its 2012 election, in which incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade was voted out and replaced by President Macky Sall. Its performance on an indicator designated "transfers of power" has improved by 66 points, to the highest possible score of 100.
In an environment in which standards in the three best-governed countries in Africa - Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana - slipped, not only did Senegal's general score improve; it improved in every one of the four major categories, the only country among Africa's top 10 performers to do so.
Asks Elizabeth McGrath: "Are we seeing some kind of a shifting landscape, where government performance is coming from places different from... the big powerhouses... we've seen in the past?" Senegal's progress suggests it is a country to watch.
Kenya, which already has a relatively high ranking of 14th best-governed nation, has achieved its highest governance score in the 15 years for which statistics have been collected.
The performance of its judiciary has helped to boost its record in rule of law but personal safety and national security have slipped slightly, and human trafficking has worsened considerably. Steady progress in economic opportunities and participation and human rights, including a massive expansion of telecommunications, have placed it among the four most improved countries in these fields. In the case of the economy, this bucks the continental trend, which is one of decline on average.
In the area of human development, however, Kenya's record is against the general trend in a negative way. Here, the country has deteriorated since 2011, particularly in education - where the backsliding has been most serious in education system quality and the pupil to teacher ratio in primary schools - and in health - where the year 2013-2014 saw a plunge in public health campaigns.
Togo also has countered the continental trend for economic development by notching up impressive gains, driven by advances in opening up the business environment, creating infrastructure and in the rural sector. It has improved across the board in human development, less consistently in participation and human rights, but has slipped slightly in safety and the rule of law.
The next five most improved nations were Morocco, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Madagascar and Tunisia.
The countries whose quality of governance have deteriorated the most since 2011 are South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mali.
Not only does South Sudan enter the index for the first time at a very low ranking - after Somalia, it is the second-worst ruled country in Africa; the data since for the period since 2011, when it became independent, shows that it has experienced the worst deterioration in the continent.
Its scores have dropped across all categories of performance and in 13 of the 14 sub-categories which underlie them. In 22 of the 93 indicators which make up the index, its score is zero. Given the internecine warfare since December 2013 among those who took the nation to independence, the prospects for a quick turnaround appear particularly bleak.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), the third-worst governed country, rebellion and sectarian warfare have also taken their toll.
The gloom is relieved only by some improvements in accountability, access to information, the rights of women, education and health, especially access to anti-retroviral drugs and public health campaigns.
Likewise in Mali. Although it enjoys a better ranking than South Sudan or the CAR - at 30th place - rebellion in the north, a coup and fighting since 2012 have seen a steep drop in safety and the rule of law, as well as Africa's worst decline in participation and human rights. Improvements are few and far between, with some in health and education and, in the field of economic opportunity, the investment climate and telecommunications.
The "good news story" from the bottom of this year's index, suggests the Ibrahim Index's Elizabeth McGrath, is Somalia.
While it remains Africa's worst-governed country, it is the nation in the bottom 10 which has shown the most progress since 2011, and in all the major categories of the index, reflecting a degree of progress towards stability since the installation of an internationally-backed government in 2012.
What's happening in... ?
Lesotho and Senegal have joined Africa's top 10 governance performers, replacing Zambia and Benin.
In other nations, in the words of excerpts from Ibrahim Index country summaries:
Ghana - A mixed record
Ranked 7th, declined slightly since 2011.
"Despite ranking in the top ten in overall governance and in three of the four index categories, Ghana's trajectories in some governance components are negative. In line with trends seen at the continental level, Ghana has deteriorated, in similar magnitude, in Safety & Rule of Law and Sustainable Economic Opportunity since 2011.
"Even though the country has improved in Participation & Human Rights and Human Development over the past four years, these trends are juxtaposed by deteriorations in some of these two categories' underlying sub-categories."
Madagascar - Among top 10 improvers
Ranked 29th, it among the 10 most improved countries since 2011 and the most improved in the continent in safety and the rule of law.
"Madagascar shows improvement at the overall governance level as a result of considerable progress in Safety & Rule of Law - the largest on the continent - and Participation & Human Rights. Despite this, Madagascar remains in the bottom half of the overall governance rankings.
"In Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development Madagascar displays downward trends, including year-on-year deterioration in the latter category. Madagascar's negative performance in these two categories, in which it receives its worst scores in 2014, is compounded by declines in all constituent sub-categories."
Ranked 39th, improved slightly since 2011.
"Despite showing some improvement at the overall governance level since 2011, Nigeria performs worse in 2014 than the continental and West African average scores at the overall governance level and in all four components.
"Since 2011, this resource-rich country has improved in Sustainable Economic Opportunity, in contrast to an average decline at the continental level. Within Sustainable Economic Opportunity, however, Rural Sector has declined, with Nigeria registering the eleventh highest deterioration over the past four years in this measure.
"Whilst showing an overall improvement in Human Development in the last four years, Nigeria is the fourth most deteriorated country in Africa in Education."
"Safety & Rule of Law: particularly concerning performance in Personal Safety.
"Nigeria scores 41.8 in Safety & Rule of Law, ranking 42nd on the continent and 14th out of the 15 countries in West Africa. The country has shown deterioration in this category of -2.5 score points since 2011. This downward trend has been driven by worsening performance in three of the four sub-categories: Rule of Law, Personal Safety and National Security.
"Particularly concerning results are evident in Personal Safety, which has shown Nigeria's greatest sub-category decline since 2011 (-8.1) and the sixth biggest Personal Safety decline on the continent. This trend is entirely driven by worsening performance in two of the sub-category's six indicators: Political Violence (-10.4) and Human Trafficking (-50.0).
"In the three indicators in which Nigeria has maintained a steady score since 2011, Safety of the Person, Social Unrest and Violent Crime, the country scores 0.0, the lowest scores in Africa. In only one indicator, Police Services, Nigeria has demonstrated noteworthy progress, having improved by +11.9 score points and moved up the rankings from 43rd to 39th over the past four years.
"Within Safety & Rule of Law the only sub-category Nigeria has demonstrated modest gains in is Accountability. An improvement of +1.4 points is the result of a slight improvement in the indicator Accountability, Transparency & Corruption in the Public Sector (+2.1) but mainly due to an increase in score of +21.4 in the Online Services indicator."
Ranked the 4th best-governed nation in Africa, improved slightly between 2011 and 2014.
"A historically strong performer in the index, South Africa continues to rank highly in many governance aspects, including overall governance and each of the four categories. However, high ranks conceal some concerning trends at the sub-category level, including deterioration in the issues of Rights, Gender, Public Management, Rural Sector and Health.
"South Africa is one of only 13 countries to show a decline in Health, and is the only country in the top five performers to show a negative trajectory in this issue. The country's Personal Safety score continues to be of concern, with not only a low score and rank position, but a recent score drop, triggered by a fall in the measure of Social Unrest."
"Participation & Human Rights: South Africa's only deteriorating category core.
"South Africa's second best performing category, Participation & Human Rights, also exhibits the country's only decline at the category level.
South Africa scores 73.9, ranking 4th , and shows a weakening in its score by -0.2 points. This deterioration is the second smallest in magnitude on the continent in this category, but is South Africa's only category fall since 2011.
"South Africa's best score is in Participation, scoring 81.1, and this is the only sub-category improvement to be seen in Participation & Human Rights. Meanwhile, both other sub-categories show deterioration, tipping the balance at the category level to be one of general decline, even if marginal.
"The drop in Rights of -1.3 score points is triggered by two particular indicators: Freedom of Association & Assembly (-18.1) and Freedom of Expression (-3.2). Gender, on the other hand, which shows a decline of -0.7 score points, is driven down by both Legislation on Violence against Women (-8.3) and Women in Politics (-0.6). Both Freedom of Association & Assembly and Legislation on Violence against Women are two of South Africa's ten most deteriorated indicators across the index, since 2011."