The Ibrahim Index: Measuring African Successes and Failures

For the fourth year now, the Mohamed Ibrahim Foundation has released its Ibrahim Index, which uses a series of basic indicators to measure political and economic progress across Africa. Not surprisingly, the Index revealed a steady increase over the past year in economic development throughout Africa, a result of improved governmental policies, increased foreign direct investment (FDI), more focused development assistance and general ingenuity on the part of regular African citizens. However, although the Index demonstrates a significant level of economic progress on the continent, it also reveals some rather disturbing trends in the area of political development and human rights. The results indicate that there was a significant decline in many countries in physical security, political participation and human rights protections, with the worst offenders being Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Chad. These decreasing trends are cause for concern, as they reflect a growing threat to basic rights and security; in addition, any decline in governance quality is certain to impede further economic reform.

The Ibrahim Index, which was first developed in 2004, specifically measures the delivery of public goods and services to citizens by government and non-state actors; its main goal is to assess quality of governance in Africa. There are a total of 88 indicators divided amongst four main categories: Safety and the Rule of Law (SRL); Participation and Human Rights (PHR); Sustainable Economic Opportunity (SEO); and Human Development (HD). Under safety and the rule of law, countries are rated on level of citizens’ personal safety (violent crime, social unrest, human trafficking, etc.) and the rule of law, which includes strength of judicial process, judicial independence, property rights, etc. It also rates them on accountability and corruption and finally, national security, which includes domestic armed conflict, government involvement in armed conflict, number of civilian deaths, refugee exodus, number of internally displaced persons, etc. Those countries that scored highest (out of 100) under the category of Safety and Rule of Law were Mauritius (90), Botswana (88), Cape Verde (84), the Seychelles (81) and Namibia (80). Those that scored the worst, or the ‘offenders’, were Somalia (8), Sudan (22), DRC (33), Zimbabwe (35), the Central African Republic (35), Chad (38) and Coté d’Ivoire (38). In addition, there were several countries that did not have the lowest scoring, but did have significant decreases in their scores over the past year. These include Madagascar, which went from 64 to 51 points (a 20% decrease); Rwanda (from 56 to 47 pts); and Gambia (56-50 pts). Overall, Africa experienced a slight decline in this category from a total average of 56 to 55 pts.

In terms of the political participation and human rights category, which encompasses free and fair elections; women’s rights and gender equality; and political rights such as freedom of speech and press, the continent’s average is the poorest of the four categories at 45 pts, a decrease of 3 pts since last year. Rather disappointingly, not a single African nation scored above 80 pts in the category, and once again the top leaders were Cape Verde (79.7), Mauritius (77), South Africa (73), Botswana (69) and the Seychelles (68.7). The worst offenders were Somalia (12), Equatorial Guinea (19), Libya (19), Sudan (23), Chad (23) and Swaziland (27). Notable declines were also seen in Madagascar, whose score fell from 63 to 51 pts (19% decrease); Niger (49 to 38 pts); Mauritania (53 to 44 pts); and Sierra Leone (59 to 52 pts). It is worth noting that in several sub-categories, individual country scores fell into the mere single digits. For instance, Eritrea shockingly scored below Somalia in the Participation and Rights sub-categories (Eritrea scored just 3 pts in Participation, while Somalia scored 4; it scored a mere 6 pts compared to Somalia’s 9 pts in Rights).

Some of these results were to be expected, particularly those concerning Africa’s worst offenders such as Somalia, Sudan, DRC, Zimbabwe and Libya. Somalia is a perpetual failed state, while Sudan and Zimbabwe continue to be ruled by dictatorships, functioning under a façade of minimal democracy. In addition, the Libyan government remains a dictatorship, whose peculiar structure and function deny Libyans basic human/civil rights. While the poor performance of these particular governments comes as no surprise, there were some interesting declines that warrant further examination, the most obvious of course being Madagascar, which saw a 20% decrease in both the Safety and Rule of Law and Participation and Human Rights categories.

Madagascar’s decline began with a civilian coup in January of 2009. After days of widespread heated, anti-government protests over the country’s desperate economic situation, Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo, seized power, declaring President Marc Ravalomanana’s reign over. Rajoelina then declared himself the new president and promised to set up a transitional regime and eventually restore democracy to the country. The coup, even if ‘well-intentioned’, was entirely illegal. Even worse, it destroyed any democratic progress achieved in Madagascar since its independence in 1960 and since major democratic reforms during the 1990’s. The period that followed the coup was characterized by political uncertainty and the virtual loss of democratic rights for Madagascar’s people. Human rights groups have reported multiple violations by the ‘transitional’ regime, still led by Rajoelina. According to victims, both the civilian regime and the military have orchestrated killings, arbitrary imprisonment or other forms of deprivation of freedom, torture, rape and persecution against the civilian population. The severity of the situation in Madagascar has been compounded by the lack of political progress and the refusal of the current regime to execute previously agreed to power-sharing deals. As of now, Madagascar remains in a state of flux while it awaits the restoration of its Parliament, which was dissolved last year. Madagascar is scheduled for a referendum on a new constitution next month, local elections in December, parliamentary elections in March and a presidential vote in May. In the mean time, Madagascar’s citizens will continue to suffer under a veritable state of dictatorial anarchy, which will likely result in the country’s continued low scoring on the Ibrahim Index in the categories of personal safety, rule of law and human rights.

Another country that warrants further scrutiny, as a result of it scoring below Somalia in the political participation and human rights categories, is Eritrea. Eritrea, a single party presidential republic, has often been reproached by the international community and human rights groups for its human rights record. Eritrean authorities often make arbitrary arrests of political/civil leaders, journalists and regular citizens. In 2001, a crackdown on dissent led to the imprisonment of eleven former government leaders, journalists and hundreds of other alleged dissidents. In addition, the Eritrean government bans minority religious groups, and thousands have been arrested for simply practicing their religion; many of which were subsequently tortured in an attempt to force them to recant their faith. Anyone who protests government action or otherwise challenges the government in any way is also typically arrested, as political dissent is not tolerated. Several thousand prisoners of conscience have remained detention for years, many of them in secret locations or military prisons, where they have likely been subject to ill-treatment, torture, and other cruel and degrading treatment. Furthermore, increased crackdown of student organizations and other civil society groups has led to the fleeing of Eritrea’s youth and young professionals. In addition, the Eritrean government continues to its military conscription campaign, forcing young people (and underage youth) to serve even if they’ve declared conscientious objection.

There is something to be learned from the cases of Eritrea and Madagascar. The Ibrahim Index clearly places Eritrea’s political situation into perspective, by indicating that persons living in Eritrea actually have less human rights protection and less right to political participation than a nation that has no functioning government, namely Somalia. Also relevant is the relationship between a country’s political and economic situation. Eritrea scored only 25pts under the Sustainable Economic Opportunity (SEO) category, which suggests a positive correlation between political health and economic progress. Essentially, economic progress cannot occur in a politically restrictive environment, particularly one in which the law is arbitrary and/or is tailored to fit the current regime’s agenda. This is highly evident in the Index; those countries with the lowest scores in the categories of SRL and PHR, not surprisingly also had some of the lowest scores in SEO. Madagascar, which already suffers from a poor economic situation, saw a 3pt drop from 53 to 50pts in SEO, an apparent result of the decline in political stability and general security. Madagascar certainly serves as a lesson for other states in the severe consequences of such extreme and illegitimate political action. In addition, its low score on the index for SRL and PHR is likely predictive of future scores for Niger and Guinea, which both suffered coups over the past few years. In fact, this past year, Niger experienced an 11pt decrease in its PHR score.

Although the Ibrahim Index does not provide a perfect measurement for African successes and failures, it does offer a fairly accurate assessment of major political and economic indicators, which successfully highlight and reflect each country’s overall progress (or lack thereof) in several sectors. It is essentially the first measurement of its kind, providing a base with which to compare situations within countries, between countries and at the regional level. An analysis of the recent Index has provided an alarming picture of the current situation throughout Africa. The general decline witnessed in political participation, human rights and physical security cannot be underestimated. States must work quickly and effectively to remedy any ongoing political, civil and economic problems, to avoid further deterioration. The international community, including regional African organizations, should work cooperatively to place greater pressure upon individual governments to adopt more democratic practices, including greater political participation, as well as legal reform. The release of the Ibrahim Index will hopefully impose upon all actors a greater sense of urgency and overall assist them in determining the countries and areas that require the most pressure, assistance and/or reform.