Setting benchmarks for good governance

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was launched in October 2006 to promote good governance in Africa with the support of world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Alpha Konaré, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. On October 22 2007, the foundation will announce the winner of the world’s biggest prize, the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, to be awarded to a former African executive head of state or government that has demonstrated exemplary leadership.

The foundation, funded through the success of African business, is launching a radical new index of governance in sub-Saharan Africa compiled by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The index will inform the deliberations of the foundation’s prize committee, chaired by Kofi Annan, when it meets next month.

Seven years ago this month, world leaders gathered in New York and agreed an ambitious range of targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. As we approach the halfway mark to the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, there has been much discussion of our chances of success.

It is clear to me that there is one issue above all others that will determine sustainable development: good governance. It is central to the effective administration of a state’s resources, the application of the rule of law, the creation of a functioning private sector and the development of a strong civil society. Without good governance in the countries in which the world’s poorest people live, it is hard to see how the Millennium Development Goals can be attained.

Yet even if we agree about the primacy of good governance, the concept remains too opaque to have any practical application. Because we don’t have a widely held or well-understood definition of governance, there is little with which we can hold governments to account. Although the governance of a company dealing with a few hundred employees and a few million dollars of investors’ money is judged against comprehensive data, the governance of an entire nation is judged on comparatively little. Political performance should be judged with the help of objective criteria. I hope to take a significant step towards that goal.

Modern nation states are responsible for the delivery of essential political goods to their citizens. That is their purpose; it is what gives them their legitimacy. We have therefore determined what we believe to be the five basic categories of governance: safety and security; the rule of law, transparency and tackling corruption; participation and human rights; sustainable economic development; and human development. Within these five categories, we have recorded 58 measurements for each country to capture clear delivery outputs. These have been drawn from a wide range of institutions, NGOs and think tanks, including the World Bank, the United Nations, the Global Peace Index, Reporters Without Borders and many more.

The Foundation is ranking all sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries against each other. It is the very first time that these countries have been comprehensively and collectively compared against any governance criteria. Just as importantly, we will repeat the index every year to provide a report card on the accomplishments of governments. We don’t claim a monopoly of wisdom on what constitutes good governance, nor do we pretend that the index cannot be improved. More needs to be done to improve the quality of statistical information, and we would welcome new ideas about the index’s methods and manner of compilation. Yet we do believe that the index is a unique contribution to the way governance can be assessed.

I believe passionately that if Africa is to develop, if it is to have a chance of meeting the ambitious Millennium Development Goals, then Africans need to be empowered with the knowledge to drive change. Our index aims to shine a light on governance—to provide a debating point for the fast-growing media in Africa, and a tool to allow African political institutions and civil society to engage its leaders.

This is an African initiative, occupying a space which many NGOs, foreign donors and investors are not able to fill. Africans can address their own continent’s challenges. Though this research has been conducted by the foremost centre of academic excellence in this field—in the United States—the index has been shaped by a council of African advisors. It is about Africans taking ownership, developing their own forms of accountability, and delivering change. It is about Africans setting benchmarks that the world can emulate.

Let us not forget that Africa is on the move. Pan-African structures through the newly reformed African Union are strengthening. More African countries than ever before are engaging in democratic processes. Economic growth rates have averaged over 5% across the continent since the turn of the century, and last year foreign direct investment in Africa surged to a record $38-billion. The challenge is to entrench this progress through a new and sustained focus on good governance. At the very least, it’s time for the debate about good governance to begin.

Mo Ibrahim is an expert in mobile communications, the founder of Celtel International and a member of the Africa Regional Advisory Board of London Business School

Client Media Releases

UKZN humanities academic awarded Ed Bruner Book Prize
Sanral receives high honour
What makes IIE Rosebank College cool?