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Mo Ibrahim Index in Spotlight: Is Zimbabwe Better Governed Than Nigeria?

November 7, 2007

Africa Several weeks ago, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation released the inaugural edition of the Index of African Governance. The index, sponsored by Mr. Ibrahim, a cell phone magnate and founder of Celtel, assesses Sub-Sahara’s 48 states in five categories: safety and security; rule of law, transparency, and corruption; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development. While the survey is a welcomed addition to the field, particularly given its comprehensive coverage of Sub-Saharan Africa, several methodology kinks need to be worked out before its rankings can be used as a more precise tool for comparing these states.

The index posits Mauritius, Seychelles, and Botswana as the best-governed countries in Africa, while the worst, not surprisingly, include Chad, DR Congo, and Somalia. Rather remarkably, however, Rwanda is ranked 19th, on the same level as Zambia and better than Mozambique. Perhaps even more puzzling is the assessment that Zimbabwe is better governed than Nigeria. Freedom House recently released in-depth reports examining governance in all five of these countries and our research is at odds with these conclusions.

Rwanda transitioned from dictatorship to nominal democracy after the 2003 elections, yet the ruling RPF party continues to hold power and exert overwhelming influence over political and civil rights. In the last three years, this dominance only increased (see the Countries at the Crossroads Rwanda report). There is no significant opposition, as most opposition leaders have been targeted for persecution. Neither the legislative nor the judiciary branches are independent of the RPF party or provide oversight of the executive. The government has also shut down or refused to re-register numerous nongovernmental organizations, and has similarly targeted independent media, using intimidation and arbitrary charges to shut down organizations critical of government actions. Given, Rwanda has stepped up its anticorruption efforts, but it is yet to be seen whether the reforms will cause any real, institutional change.

On the other hand, Zambia, although not without problems, continues to move incrementally down a path of improved governance. A new Electoral Act and last year’s generally free and fair elections evidence Zambia’s slowly maturing electoral institutions. The state generally respects the right of interest groups to organize (although tensions surfaced this year between the government and civil society over constitutional reform) and the civil society sector is vibrant. Despite troubles, many of which have to do with the lack of resources, the judiciary exhibits a fair degree of independence and the government generally complies with unfavorable decisions. Zambia is still a long way from becoming a consolidated democracy; however, our research suggests that it outperforms Rwanda in key categories such as government accountability, civil liberties, rule of law, and anticorruption and transparency (see the complete Zambia report).

Even more striking are differences between Zimbabwe and Nigeria. In Zimbabwe – a country that has, in fact, become a failed state – the economy is at the verge of complete collapse, its already dreadful human rights situation is deteriorating even further, and civic organizations are being continually suppressed, all while President Robert Mugabe’s grip to power is becoming stronger. Over the past few years, the government has expanded its crackdown on the country’s few remaining media outlets, using new strategies to jam radio broadcasts and limit internet freedom. All this as annual inflation reaches a whopping 11,000 percent, placing basic life necessities, such as food and clothing, out of reach for most of the population.

While Nigeria remains a highly problematic country, as evidenced by the widespread irregularities and violence during the April elections, its economic, political, and human rights conditions are certainly better than Zimbabwe’s. The media is vibrant and enjoys a moderate degree of freedom, although the state does not shy away from using extralegal measures to suppress political criticism (still, not comparable to the levels in Zimbabwe). Likewise, Nigeria’s civil society sector operates without many major impediments and has even made some strides in efforts to influence government, managing to make its voices heard on issues such as fuel hikes and some other legislation. Still, corruption and graft in Nigeria are deep and widespread, and the judiciary remains prone to bribery and political influence. However, in our view, Nigeria outperforms Zimbabwe in most of these areas.

What then explains Rwanda and Zimbabwe’s better-than-expected performance on the Ibrahim Index? After taking a closer look at its methodology, it appears that at least a part of the surprising assessments could be attributed to the survey’s coverage delay, as well as its inability to effectively capture issues such as minority rights and government transparency.

For example, while the absence of gender discrimination is an important component of the Participation and Human Rights category, other types of discrimination, such as ethnic and racial, are captured only indirectly, through measuring state adherence to various human rights conventions (in Rule of Law, Transparency, and Corruption). Hence, the states that do not protect rights of ethnic and racial minorities can arguably perform reasonably well in this category.

Moreover, the Rule of Law, Transparency, and Corruption category, despite its name, does not really have a direct measure for government transparency. In our view, government transparency is an important indicator of good governance and can be assessed by looking as the existence and effective implementation of freedom of information laws; the ability of state to ensure transparency, open-bidding, and effective competition in the awarding of government contracts; legislative review of the executive budget-making process; and the presence of detailed accounting of government expenditures – as is done in the Countries at the Crossroads survey.

Finally, like many other surveys, such as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and Transparency International’s CPI, the Ibrahim Index suffers from a notable coverage delay. The recently released edition evaluates African governance only through the end of 2005.

From → Africa

One Comment
  1. well written piece and objective analysis of the index.

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