Which Index of African Governance? More on the Break Between Ibrahim and Rotberg

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Following up on our post yesterday concerning the split between Harvard and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation over the Index of African Governance, we’ve discovered more on the causes for the partnership’s dissolve.

The New York Times’ Celia Dugger writes a story today revealing a few new tidbits, among them that Dani Kaufman, co-creator of the World Bank Institute’s controversial Worldwide Governance Indicators and now at the Brookings Institute, has been brought on to advise the Ibrahim Foundation on the construction of their rival index. Small world indeed.

The story also confirmed the main reason for the split: an argument over whether and how to “Africanize” the index. (Also see this AllAfrica.com piece for quotes from the rival sides.) The previous indices in 2008 and 2007 were mashups of pre-existing international data sets, with little to no original data. Although an attempt was made in 2009 to utilize more local expertise in gathering some original data, the 2009 Index of African Governance (the Harvard version) employed less than one researcher per nation, raising a valid question as to how “local” a Mauritanian researcher is to Morocco, for example. The rival Ibrahim Index of 2009 (Mo Ibrahim’s mashup) touts its reliance on African researchers in its methodology; however, it too relies heavily upon Western datasets for most of the source data.

The “authenticity” question…

The question is: is it more “authentic” or “African” to mash-up squishy source data in Boston or in Accra? This is where the “Africanization” argument starts to look like a bit of a red herring to us.

The reality is that if either of these indices is to be made more “African,” the indicators must draw on much more original data gathered by Africans, not international perceptions surveys. If your response to that is, “Hey, I thought that’s what the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) process was supposed to do!” then you’re asking the right question. Despite the APRM’s overly-bureaucratic process and long time lines for publishing an assessment, it’s indeed the closest and best thing going when it comes to Africans assessing African governance. Whether either of the rival Ibrahim/Harvard indices would add greater value than an APRM assessment, we’re not sure.

Does either approach create change?

Arguably the more important question that is still not being asked is whether this dispute matters to anyone except the index creators themselves. Even if you think one or the other index has the more perfect methodology and impeccable results (certainly we don’t, but we’ll set that aside for now), what exactly is anyone going to do with the insight that the Seychelles is better governed than Somalia? Your jaw isn’t gaping open with shock?

This overly simplistic example gets to the heart of why the era of single number, name-and-shame indices should be coming to a close, and the sooner the better. Even if you believe the results of these indices are flawless and completely accurate, they offer little to no real-life, day-to-day insights into how to prioritize and sequence possible governance reform efforts. To us, the name of the game has always been how to make use of limited political and financial capital in the context of imperfect choices when it comes to anti-corruption and accountability reforms. Country-level rankings, even if accurate, simply don’t provide anything close to actionable insights for policymakers, civil society groups, or the private sector. They do, however, provide lots of media coverage and public relations for the index creator.

And that may be the real lesson to come out of all of this.

— Nathaniel Heller & Norah Mallaney

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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