Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Africa needs much better governance

Nobody qualified to win an African prize for stepping down peacefully from high office. This shows that African governance still needs a lot of improvement.

The offer of $5 million (Dh18.4 m), followed by $200,000 a year for life, might induce many of us to retire promptly and hand over the headaches of the workplace to a suitable successor. If that workplace were the presidential palace of a country full of problems, the incentive might be even more tempting.

But this year, again, nobody has qualified for just such a prize, offered by Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British businessman who made his money in mobile telephony in Africa and now aims to accelerate the continent’s progress towards good governance and prosperity.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation confirmed this week that for the fourth year in the past five, there is no winner of the Ibrahim Prize, offered annually to a chosen African executive head of state or government who has helped his or her country and then stepped down according to law.

It is an artfully-designed prize, offering leaders a personal incentive to ensure an orderly, democratic transition. The idea is to discourage the familiar practice of regime change by force or fraud. Undemocratic transfers of power – by coup, electoral cheating or civil war – are the bane of African development, corroding institutions and scaring investors.

So it is discouraging that in a continent of more than 50 countries, there has been only one Ibrahim Prize since 2008. It went to Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires, who stepped down in 2011 at the end of his term as president of tiny Cape Verde (population 500,000), and was succeeded by the opposition-party candidate who won a fair election that year.

But the news is not all bad. The Ibrahim Foundation’s 2013 Index of African Governance, studying 52 countries, found that since 2000, overall governance has improved for 94 per cent of Africa’s one billion people.

Since 2010, however, only 43 per cent have seen progress. And the economic component of the index has not been matched by expansion of the rule of law, which – including orderly transitions of power – is the essential foundation of good governance, security, rights and prosperity.

The Ibrahim Foundation’s courageous decision offers a lesson that should be studied by the Nobel Peace Prize committee, which has made some quirky choices in recent years, as noted in this space on Saturday.

In the African context, refusing to award the Ibrahim Prize is a hard-headed, clear-eyed acknowledgement that wishing is not doing, that reality is intractable and that Africa still has a long way to go.

Updated: October 15, 2013 04:00 AM

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