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The Ibrahim Index on African governance.

The Ibrahim Index on African governance is the first comprehensive ranking of 48 sub-Saharan African countries. It is holistic rather than piecemeal in its approach and it eschews subjective criteria for a scientific measurement of the degree to which governments deliver political goods to their citizens. Anver Versi reports.


The long-awaited Ibrahim Index of African Governance, is, according to its makers, the most comprehensive ranking of 48 sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries on the thorny issue of governance. Published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, this index forms part of an ambitious project to improve the quality of governance in Africa, a project which also includes the Mo Ibrahim Prize, awarded to a former African executive head of state or government who has demonstrated excellence in African leadership. This prize consists of $5m disbursed over 10 years, and $200,000 annually for life thereafter.


The Index itself, which has been worked upon for the last year by a team of academics at Harvard University in the US, will be updated annually. An African initiative, it is a logical plank in the overarching strategy to come to grips with the quality of governance in Africa. "We are shining a light on governance in Africa and in so doing we are making a unique contribution to improving the quality of governance," says Dr Mo Ibrahim, the foundation's founder and chairman. "The Ibrahim Index is a tool to hold governments to account and frame the debate about how we are governed. Africans are setting benchmarks not only for their own continent but for the world." Dr Ibrahim is a global expert in mobile communications and a distinguished academic. He founded Celtel International against the grain of received business wisdom and turned it into one of the most successful operations on the continent. Celtel was sold to MTC Kuwait (now Zain) for a record $3.4bn. Dr Ibrahim recently retired as chairman of Celtel to concentrate on his foundation.

From several interviews I have conducted with him, there is no question that Dr Ibrahim is passionate about Africa's development and is convinced that, despite the continent's current trials and tribulations, this is Africa's century. He also firmly believes that Africans hold the key not only to their own development but can and should set benchmarks for others. He staked his business on this belief and the success of Celtel has vindicated his faith in African capability.

It was perhaps with this in mind that there has been criticism that the Index was outsourced to an American institution, Harvard--admittedly one of the best educational and research institutions in the world--but not an African one.

Could the same work not have been performed in Africa? If the aim is to gear up African capacity, then why were Africa's best academics and researchers not employed to work on the Index?

I put this question to Dr Ibrahim. "Of course the aim is to use African capacity whenever and wherever we can find it, but credibility is all important in an index of this magnitude," he told me. "Given the lack of capacity now existing in African institutions for this kind of work--nothing on this scale and scope has ever been attempted on the continent before--we went for the best," he explained. "We should not shy away from employing the best in the world if we are in a position to do so. Credibility is paramount. You can agree or disagree with the rankings in the Index, but the processes must be the best available anywhere."

Dr Ibrahim pointed out that an advisory council, composed mostly of African academics and researchers was layered above Harvard. "The Index will increasingly involve African capacity in the future and it will migrate gradually towards Africa as we build the know-how and expertise in African institutions."

As in his business strategy, Dr Ibrahim takes the pragmatic rather than the populist approach. For him, employing Africans simply because they are African smacks of paternalism and had he done so, it is quite likely that the Index would have not carried the same credibility.

There has also been some confusion about what the Index is. Over the years there has been a proliferation of 'report cards' on various aspects of African political and economic life. Most of these have been commissioned, designed and made in the West; use Western terms of references and benchmarks and are aimed at Western audiences.


But how many of these truly reflect the here-and-now reality of Africa? Take Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perception Index for example. African countries are often at the bottom of the pile but remember the TI's index measures perceptions, not the actual level of corruption. These perceptions are gleaned from Western companies and individuals and are, in the end, little more than opinion. And we all know how often perceptions of things African are so badly off the mark.

Perception indexes measure perceptions--they tell you more about the perceiver than about the subject of the perception. Similarly, "the way we perceive governance differs from body to body," says Dr Ibrahim. "Different organisations, and individuals, focus on different aspects of governance. Some people look at human development as the area of primary concern; some equate good governance with a particular political system; some consider institution building as paramount; others insist that safety and security should be the main focus of governance while yet others believe that if you have elections, you automatically have good governance."

But while this piecemeal approach may satisfy the authors of such indexes, we know they don't tell anywhere near the real story. A country may regularly hold above-board democratic elections but its citizens may be suffering. Is this good governance?

Another country may achieve impressive economic growth figures but the distribution of income may be badly tilted. Is that good governance?

Another country may have political and press freedoms but it may be so over-run by crime that nobody can walk about with any sense of security. Can that be called good governance?

On the other side of the coin, you may have a dictatorship but be virtually free of crime. Does this count towards governance? You may have a one-party state but nearly 100% literacy. Where does this fit into the governance formula? You may have a powerful ruling oligarchy but if it delivers some of the world's highest living standards, under what governance heading will you put it?

The above examples, and several more not mentioned in this article are actual case studies of African countries--with only one example outside SSA. Readers are invited to work out which these countries are.

"A proper accounting of governance must take into account not just one or two aspects of governance, but all aspects together," says Dr Ibrahim. "We have benchmarked five categories that we believe are essential for good governance and we apply scores to each category to arrive at our final rankings."


Dr Ibrahim told me that 'likes and dislikes' were eliminated in the ranking process. "All of us dislike corruption for instance--but is this the only criterion on which to judge the governance of a country?"

In the Index, a country may score low on corruption but high on human development and the scores reflect this reality. On the other hand, a country may score high on corruption (the lack of it) but low on safety and security and this fact is also reflected in the ranking.

In addition, the Index compares and contrasts the 48 African countries against each other rather than some theoretical ideal or against countries whose histories, geographies, development models and systems of political, social and economic organisations are vastly different from those prevailing in Africa today.

"Nevertheless," says Dr Ibrahim, "the five categories we use are universal--these are the political goods that the governed expect from their governments everywhere."

The Index does not seek to pass judgment on the countries studied. It uses data to observe how each country delivers, or fails to deliver, the political goods under each category. "It is meant to be a practical guide--to show countries their strengths and weaknesses. If your overall ranking is being brought down because of a relatively poor performance in one category, then you know where to apply your resources. The Index shows you in what areas you need to improve and the year to year rankings show you not only if you are improving or slipping back, but also the degree to which you have improved or slipped back relative to other countries in the Index."

Because the Ibrahim Index is the first of its kind, it is likely to cause some confusion until people become used to its parameters. Once that happens, this will be the most important annual Index on governance in Africa ever produced.

Making the Index has been a long, complex exercise but we feel an understanding of the process is vital to fully appreciate the rankings. Professor Robert Rotberg of Harvard University who led the Ibrahim Index team explains the process in the following article. We also publish three tables: Table 1, the final ranking based on 2005 data and tables 2 & 3, the baseline rankings for 2002 and 2000 respectively.
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Title Annotation:Africa's Top 100 Banks
Comment:The Ibrahim Index on African governance.(Africa's Top 100 Banks)
Author:Versi, Anver
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60SUB
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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