After two years of withholding the award due to shortage of deserving candidates, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership finally went earlier this month to Cape Verde’s former President Pedro Verona Pires. The award coincided with the release of 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the continent’s leading assessment of governance indicators in four core categories: safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development.
This year the top five countries out of the 53 evaluated were Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, Seychelles, and South Africa. At the bottom of the list were the Central African Republic, Congo, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Somalia. But the index reveals more than just country ranking. In its fifth edition, the index shows a strong link between balanced approach to improving all categories of governance and long-term economic performance. In other words, the most economically successful African countries also consistently achieve high scores across all four governance categories.
As Lord Cairns, member of the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, put it, “freedom to participate in the creation of economic wealth is a key right for all citizens and governments have an overwhelming duty to develop an enabling framework.” Creating that enabling framework is what good governance is all about. Therefore, governments that restrict political participation or repress human rights not surprisingly have a hard time with providing an environment for inclusive opportunity for their people even if they manage to achieve a measure of macroeconomic growth.
That should be a lesson for the African leaders who fall short when it comes to the traits sought by the Ibrahim Prize. In the words of Mo Ibrahim, “if economic progress is not translated into better quality of life and respect for citizens’ rights, we will witness more Tahrir Squares in Africa.”