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African governance 'backslides' on democracy

January 26, 2023

The latest report on African governance by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation rates the continent as less secure than it was a decade ago. Africa is considered more vulnerable to the effects of the war in Ukraine. DW digs deeper.

Mo Ibrahim pictured at his office in London in 2020
Mo Ibrahim is a Sudan-born businessman who developed the biennial IIAG to track Africa's progressImage: Hollie Adams/AFP/Getty Images

"Africa's overall governance score has flatlined since 2019, and in 2021 much of Africa is less safe, secure and democratic than in 2012," said the latest Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG).

The report ranks Mauritius first in the Overall Governance category, with its Indian Ocean neighbor, Seychelles, second. Tunisia, Cape Verde, Botswana, South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and Morocco follow. Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan are ranked last.

Tanzania and Rwanda showed overall improvement over the last decade, while Burundi was "bouncing back," according to the IIAG.

In the Human Development and Foundations for Economic Opportunity categories, progress is noted across the continent. However, IIAG research showed an "increasingly perilous security situation and widespread democratic backsliding" had undermined that progress.

Over the period under review, there were global, non-African born challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. "This is now exacerbated by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war , and its particularly harsh indirect impact on Africa," IIAG researchers wrote.

Deterioration of security, rule of law 

"Unfortunately in the area of security [and the] rule of law, in the area of rights and participation [and] inclusion — all these have been deteriorating, and that really is a matter of concern," said Mo Ibrahim, a Sudan-born businessman who developed the biennial IIAG to track Africa's progress, at the launch of the 2022 report.

Alex Vines, the director of the Africa Program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, told DW that the IIAG makes a valid point.

"The deteriorating security situation in Africa suggests that the responses are not working. So the French have pulled out some of their forces from West Africa and African forces are struggling," Vines said.

"What I don't necessarily agree with is that Wagner [Group] is being seen widely in the continent as a solution," he added, referring to the private Russian paramilitary unit. 

The logo on a window at the PMC Wagner Centre in St. Petersburg
The Wagner Group is not known to be active in Burkina Faso, but is reportedly active in other African conflict areasImage: Igor Russak/REUTERS

Insurgencies, coups and kidnappings

"The African stand-by forces and intervention brigades have struggled with the current security challenges that the continent has faced," said Vines.

A map showing the countries within the Sahel region
France and Germany have had troops deployed in the Sahel to fight Islamist insurgents

Mali now receives support from Russia, and France has also agreed to pull its troops from Burkina Faso.

A southern African intervention force has been deployed in northern Mozambique to counter an insurgency with the support of Rwanda.

The insecurity in Nigeria is a pressing issue, as voters prepare to elect a new president on February 25.

"When you look at the issue of Boko Haram and the killings everywhere around the country, there is no safety," Joseph Blabo, a Lagos resident told DW. "As a Christian and a pastor, it gives a lot of concern to me to see that people come to church in fear."

Jemima Gafar, a city trader, told DW that she agreed with the IIAG assessment. "We all know of the issues of kidnapping, the terrorism and banditry inside Nigeria," she said, adding that women are particularly vulnerable and worried.

A police officer patrols a railway line
Gunmen killed eight people and kidnapped 168 others on a Abuja-Kaduna train in March 2022Image: Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Women empowered in 42 countries 

Ibrahim said the findings showing that 42 countries have for a decade showed consistent progress in empowering women were "a bright spot" in the IIAG. DW asked women in Nigeria what they thought of the findings. 

"Every day you see how women are being maltreated. You go to the hospital they say 'men first.' Event the church or the bank, they say men first," Gladys Akpan told DW.

Joy Adesuwa, meanwhile, told DW she was glad to hear about the improvement. "But we still have a long way to go. More women need to be elected to political office and we have to see an end to cultural discrimination before we can say there is substantial improvement in gender issues."

Across the continent in Johannesburg, DW correspondent Thuso Khumalo asked citizens what they thought of the IIAG findings on women's empowerment.

"South Africa has to be careful around issues of gender violence," said Bongani Nyathi. The widening gap between the rich and the poor, issues of factionalism within the ruling party and corruption also need to be addressed to strengthen democracy, Nyathi added. 

Students walking on a roadside
Students in Kano, northern Nigeria, pictured on the eve of a presidential election in 2019Image: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

Uganda can 'learn' from Tanzania

The IIAG found a dramatic deterioration in overall governance in Uganda, while Kenya showed just a slight decline.

DW asked Perry Aritua, the executive director of the Uganda chapter of the Women's Democracy Network, about the trend.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has made some positive strides in fostering democracy, Aritua said. "She has ensured that opposition political parties are allowed to organize rallies and do the things that political parties in a multiparty democracy should do," added the Kampala-based expert.

Samia Suluhu Hassan delivers a speech
President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania has been in office since March 2021Image: Boniface Muthoni/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

"I think Uganda can borrow a leaf so that we are able to harness the expertise, the experiences, the knowledge, the skills of Ugandans that occupy different positions of leadership in political parties, in civil society, in the media, and other spaces where citizens congregate to debate issues that are important for the peace, unity and development of Uganda," Aritua said.

"You cannot have people who have the same ideas. We must be able to tolerate diversity. We must be able to bring on board those who disagree with us because they may have ideas that can be useful for the development of a country."

Tundu Lissu standing in an open top car
Once-exiled politician Tundu Lissu was back home in Tanzania this week after attempts on his life over his role in the oppositionImage: Eric Boniface

Predictable and sustainable energy shortfall 

The IIAG shows that an estimated 600 million Africans have no access to a reliable source of energy. 

"The lack of predictable energy is a great impediment for Africa's development," Vines told DW. A diversified energy supply with renewable and sustainable energy would create economic opportunities.

"Once you get energy — and renewable energy, moving away from generators and fossil fuel — you do see the opportunities for economic growth. So, I think that this is a very important consideration that has been raised by the Mo Ibrahim index," the Chatham House expert said.

South Africa is in the grip of an unprecedented national energy crisis, with regular rolling power outages. Public anger is mounting. 

On January 22, its state-owned power utility Eskom announced it would implement permanent load-shedding for the next two years. Days later, the lights went out during an energy crisis meeting convened by the ruling African National Congress party.

Ghana's ranking is no surprise to citizens

The IIAG ranked Ghana low in the Participation, Rights and Inclusion category. 

"The verdict on Ghana is not so surprising — Ghanaians see this as a true verdict of the situation in the country," said DW's Isaac Kaledzi in Accra. Citizens have lost interest in a climate where they are not given the right to participate or speak out without being victimized, he said.

Hands holding cedi banknotes
The cedi ranked as the world's worst-performing currency in 2022, with Ghana reporting its worst economic crisis in decadesImage: Nipah Dennis/AFP

Ghana recently secured an International Monetary Fund bailout.

"The only thing that people are talking about is the hope that people in authority make sure to improve the situation. If these issues are addressed properly and people can hold their leaders accountable for the decisions they take, you would see people getting involved in the process," said Kaledzi.

The IIAG marks a notable trend on government accountability and transparency. Countries with leaders who have been in power for more than 20 years scored the lowest in this regard. 

Sam Olukoya in Lagos and Alex Gitta in Kampala contributed to this article

Edited by: Keith Walker