Africa struggling with democratic backsliding, report shows

Friday January 27 2023
Mo Ibrahim and Paul Kagame in Kigali

Mo Ibrahim (left), founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation talks with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in Kigali in 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Governance patterns in African countries have improved in the past decade, albeit with teething challenges.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) released on January 25 says that African governance has mostly remained static since 2019, despite having made forward leaps in years from 2012.

With this kind of trend, the index shows that the years of progress that have been witnessed could be lost, and Africa could be unable to meet the UN-set Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals (SDGs) or the African Union Agenda 2063.

It puts Kenya at number 13 for Overall Governance across Africa, for example, showing that the East African nation has improved in three out of four categories since 2012. These include public participation, rights and inclusion, foundations for economic opportunity and human development.

Kenya has improved in 11 out of the 16 sub-categories since 2012. It has improved in all sub-categories of the Human Development category.

Security and rule of law


However, Kenya has deteriorated in security and rule of law, driven by a decline in the sub-category’s security and safety, accountability, and transparency.

The report says that the improvements in human development and economic opportunities are being undermined by an increasingly perilous security situation and widespread democratic backsliding, as the continent struggles to manage the combined impacts of Covid-19, climate change, conflict, and coups, as well as food and energy insecurity.

“The 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance highlights that African governance has flatlined since 2019. Unless we quickly address this concerning trend, the years of progress we have witnessed could be lost, and Africa will be unable to reach in due time the SDGs or Agenda 2063,” said Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Africa uniquely exposed

Mr Ibrahim said that Africa is uniquely exposed to the converging impacts of climate change, more recently Covid-19, and now the indirect impact of the Russia-Ukraine war.

He urged African governments to address all at once the ongoing lack of prospects for their growing youth, worsening food insecurity, lack of access to energy for almost half the continent’s population, heavier debt burden and growing domestic unrest. In the meantime, military coups are back in Africa and democratic backsliding is spreading.

The Mo Ibrahim Index chooses from over 300 measures of governance in four categories. They are governance and democracy, human development, foundations for economic opportunities and security

The report says that at the beginning of 2023, African countries are halfway point to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the first 10-year milestone of Agenda 2063, adding that action is urgently needed to address democratic backsliding and growing insecurity to avoid reversing several years of governance progress.

SDGs involve innovations and developments in health and water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash), emergency response, humanitarian logistics and agriculture are fundamental for the successful achievement of the SDGs in the region.

Public health challenge

Communicable diseases, such as malaria, HIV/Aids, and Tuberculosis (TB), remain a major public health challenge in the African region, causing a significant burden of illness, disability, and mortality.

On average on the continent, the overall governance level is still better in 2021 than in 2012. The African average score for Overall Governance has increased by +1.1 points over the decade. Thirty-five out of 55 African countries have experienced an improvement since 2012 but only 15 of them have managed to accelerate progress over the past five years (2017-2021). More concerning, 22 countries have seen their score decrease in that latest period.

Nathalida Napal, the acting director of the foundation said that Africa is less safe and less democratic than 10 years before.

“Since 2019 which was the beginning of Covid-19, Africa’s governance has deteriorated. Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing deterioration in regards to security and also led to gaps in education, environment, and health,” said Ms Napal.

Economic opportunities

She, however, said that it is interesting to note that the foundation for economic opportunities in Africa is the only category that has continued to improve since 2019.

Yet, for most African countries, huge challenges remain in areas such as employment, access to energy and transport infrastructure. On the Foundations for Economic Opportunity category, 2021 reached a higher level than it was in 2012.

“This is the only category that has even managed to advance since 2019, despite the seismic shocks of the pandemic, largely because of the significant advancements made in the infrastructure sub-category,” the report says.

However, since this is the 14th anniversary of the release of the IIAG, there have been questions about whether the releases have had an impact on governance issues in Africa and whether the governments take the index seriously.

Kamila Rocca, the director of research at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said that it is the responsibility of governments to deliver to their citizens, and that the foundation is just a platform for all stakeholders to pick data in relation to policy and governance that are relevant to them, given that it is a complete data-set for the entire continent.

“The Index not only highlights continental trends but allows Africa to look at the emerging trends in various categories and sub-categories indicators such as security, health, and many others that are specific to individual countries,” said MS Rocca.