The Other, Brighter Africa

LONDON – The usual images of Africa are of a continent mired in conflict and squalor. But this picture, based on Africa’s most corrupt regimes, is unfair and misleading – like claiming that all Europeans are guilty of “ethnic cleansing” because of what happened in the former Yugoslavia. Yes, African has some failed states, but most of its 53 countries are mostly peaceful, agreeable places.

Last year, the annual Ibrahim Index of African governance, produced by my foundation, showed that governance had improved in two-thirds of African countries. And if we look at politicians such as Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, or Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, as well as men like Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela, the high caliber of African leadership is obvious.

This matters because good governance is the cornerstone of development. Governments must establish an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs, and officials cannot consider the public purse to be a private bank account. Government is responsible for delivering services, but it is up to civil society to be vigilant and ensure that officials work toward these aims. A strong civil society that monitors and demands more of its leaders is vital to improving Africa’s governance. As with economics, demand stimulates supply.

The annual Ibrahim Index of African Governance tracks government performance across sub-Saharan Africa, providing a tool that allows citizens and civil-society groups to monitor their governments’ progress. We look at almost a hundred indicators and define governance in a new way – as the public goods and services that should be provided to citizens. We do not measure inputs – including aid or natural-resource revenues – or government promises and commitments; instead, we have chosen to measure the impact of government activities on the lives of citizens.