The Ibrahim Index on African Governance

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The Ibrahim Index on African governance is the first comprehensive ranking of 48 sub-Saharan African countries. It is holistic rather than piecemeal in its approach and it eschews subjective criteria for a scientific measurement of the degree to which governments deliver political goods to their citizens. Anver Versi reports.

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The long-awaited Ibrahim Index of African Governance, is, according to its makers, the most comprehensive ranking of 48 sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries on the thorny issue of governance. Published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, this index forms part of an ambitious project to improve the quality of governance in Africa, a project which also includes the Mo Ibrahim Prize, awarded to a former African executive head of state or government who has demonstrated excellence in African leadership. This prize consists of $5m disbursed over 10 years, and $200,000 annually for life thereafter.

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The Index itself, which has been worked upon for the last year by a team of academics at Harvard University in the US, will be updated annually. An African initiative, it is a logical plank in the overarching strategy to come to grips with the quality of governance in Africa. "We are shining a light on governance in Africa and in so doing we are making a unique contribution to improving the quality of governance," says Dr Mo Ibrahim, the foundation's founder and chairman. "The Ibrahim Index is a tool to hold governments to account and frame the debate about how we are governed. Africans are setting benchmarks not only for their own continent but for the world." Dr Ibrahim is a global expert in mobile communications and a distinguished academic. He founded Celtel International against the grain of received business wisdom and turned it into one of the most successful operations on the continent. Celtel was sold to MTC Kuwait (now Zain) for a record $3.4bn. Dr Ibrahim recently retired as chairman of Celtel to concentrate on his foundation.

From several interviews I have conducted with him, there is no question that Dr Ibrahim is passionate about Africa's development and is convinced that, despite the continent's current trials and tribulations, this is Africa's century. He also firmly believes that Africans hold the key not only to their own development but can and should set benchmarks for others. He staked his business on this belief and the success of Celtel has vindicated his faith in African capability.

It was perhaps with this in mind that there has been criticism that the Index was outsourced to an American institution, Harvard--admittedly one of the best educational and research institutions in the world--but not an African one.

Could the same work not have been performed in Africa? If the aim is to gear up African capacity, then why were Africa's best academics and researchers not employed to work on the Index?

I put this question to Dr Ibrahim. "Of course the aim is to use African capacity whenever and wherever we can find it, but credibility is all important in an index of this magnitude," he told me. "Given the lack of capacity now existing in African institutions for this kind of work--nothing on this scale and scope has ever been attempted on the continent before--we went for the best," he explained. "We should not shy away from employing the best in the world if we are in a position to do so. Credibility is paramount. You can agree or disagree with the rankings in the Index, but the processes must be the best available anywhere."

Dr Ibrahim pointed out that an advisory council, composed mostly of African academics and researchers was layered above Harvard. "The Index will increasingly involve African capacity in the future and it will migrate gradually towards Africa as we build the know-how and expertise in African institutions."

As in his business strategy, Dr Ibrahim takes the pragmatic rather than the populist approach. …