Just Released: Index of African Governance

Global Integrity
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The release of the Index of African Governance 2009 yesterday marked its third annual publication, though the authors describe a shakeup in the relationship between the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and their (formerly) namesake governance index.

The Index of African Governance is an aggregation of third-party international governance-related indices, with some supplementary and original in-country research melted in, in the hopes of providing a high-level look at governance in all 53 African nations.

The Index is formerly known as the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, but the Mo Ibrahim Foundation seems to have distanced itself from the data set for reasons left unsaid in yesterday’s release event.

Update: AllAfrica has the story of Ibrahim/Rotberg friction. Thanks to @kenyanpundit for the link.

How it works…

Rachel Gisselquist, who’s helped direct the Index since its inception (along with Bob Rotberg at Harvard), explained that the assessment is focused on “outcomes” such as effectiveness of service delivery. The index does not measure governance “intentions,” or what Global Integrity would call governance “inputs” — the laws and institutional backbone of countries. Instead it looks at what Rachel termed “traditional” factors of governance like rule of law, participation and human rights, as well as more explicit service-delivery issues such as safety, security, education, poverty, and health services.

In lay terms, the index hopes to unpack which African governments are providing the best governance results — health, education, safety, etc — for their citizens, regardless of how they get there. With this approach, Gisselquist and Rotberg see their Index as providing a unique tool in what Rachel called the “crowded field of governance assessments.”

One of the strengths of the annual assessment is its regularity. However, as was the subject of much of today’s debate, the lag in data makes the 2009 Index really a snapshot at how Africa was performing in 2007—the most current year of data considered verifiable enough for inclusion in the assessment. Because of its reliance on international third-party surveys for much of the source data, the methodology behind the Index of African Governance is less Africa-specific and in many ways, an attempt to refine an existing approach. In order words, it’s another algorithm mashing up pre-existing third-party surveys.

While the index authors hope for the Index to be used as a toolkit by local civil society organizations and international actors alike, the two-year time lag in data decreases the relevancy of the assessment for current decision-making. And by decrease, we mean… we doubt anyone is really able to use this for policy-making or programmatic decision making.

The results…

For the third year in a row, Mauritius ranked number 1 in the Index, followed by Seychelles and Cape Verde. Rachel spoke to the trend of small island states as performing better than larger states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (ranked 50 out of 53). While no hard theses have been developed on this, Global Integrity is interested in the same question of whether implementation of governance reforms is easier in island nations with more unified social and governance structures. (See this Commons post, which tracks our experiences in the South Pacific).

The funders…

Setting aside content, we’re interested in learning more about what appears to be some sort of falling out between Mo Ibrahim’s (founder of African telecom giant Celtel)foundation and the index’s Harvard-based research team.

The Rotberg and Gisselquist write (page V):

“The 2007 and 2008 Ibrahim Indexes, and the first four months of research on the 2009 Index were generously supported by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Since the end of 2008, there has been no official connection between the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and this Index. It is now backed by the World Peace Foundation of Cambridge, Massachusetts and remains based in the Program on Intrastate Conflict in the Harvard Kennedy School.”

In the past, a nation’s ranking on the Index weighed heavily into the criteria for the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awarded $5 million to the former African head of state deemed least corrupt (We’re not making this up — see this Ibrahim Foundation press release for details).

In 2008, when Botswana ranked 4th on the Index, the nation’s former president, Festus Gontebanye Mogae, won the $5 million (disbursed over a 10 year period) plus an additional $200,000 annually for life. (Again, we’re not making this up.)

Does Ibrahim’s distancing himself from the Index imply that the foundation wishes to distance itself from the findings? Will the Index be dropped from the award’s selection criteria this year? And what does that mean for the millions of dollars already awarded in the previous two cycles? Were those prizes legitimate?

We don’t have those answers, but the questions are important ones.

— Norah Mallaney and Global Integrity

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