Monday, October 5, 2009

Rating African Governance

Two ratings of the governance of African nations were released within days of each other. The first was headed by Professor Robert Rotberg of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the other was headed by Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born cell phone entrepreneur. With some differences, they both agree that countries such as Mauritius, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Cape Verde and Ghana are among the top 10best governed countries on the continent.

What makes a country well-governed may seem self-evident, but the Rotberg index states that: “The best governed African countries are peaceful and prosperous. They are well led, they deliver good services to their citizens, they hold free and fair elections and they are less corrupt than their neighbors. By contrast, the worst governed African countries are convulsed by conflict, hopelessly corrupt, run by autocrats and often afflicted with the resource curse.”
I have selected three example of countries rated poorly on both indexes as examples of what poor governance looks like in practice.

Zimbabwe has for some time now been the poster child for poor governance in Africa. From 1983-1987, as many as 20,000 members of the Ndebele minority were killed by Shona-dominated military forces. Since then, the government has used violence and intimidation to keep the opposition from taking over the government in subsequent elections, passed a series of laws that all served to limit freedoms of speech and assembly and drove out white farmers, black farm workers and vendors in a series of campaigns supposedly in the interest of citizenry. Mishandling of the country’s economy led to inflation so high it could scarcely be accurately calculated. The now-unity government has taken solid measures that have brought inflation within reason, but donors are awaiting action to repeal the repressive legislation and police actions that still plague this country.

After Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in Guinea through a military coup last December, he was considered a breath of fresh air in a country ruled autocratically by the late Lansana Conté until his death last year. Camara promised to finally bring genuine democracy to Guinea and then launched a public campaign against drug traffickers. However, he changed his mind on promising not to run for election to hold onto power. When a wide range of civil society organizations demonstrated against the increasingly dictatorial military government, soldiers opened fire on demonstrators, stabbed people with bayonets and gang raped women. An estimated 157 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. However, those figures can’t be confirmed since soldiers have kept people from moving around freely or claiming the bodies of the dead. Camara admitted that some elements of the army were “out of control.”

Kenya is mid-list on governance indexes. Corruption and post-election violence in late December 2007 has diminished the country’s standing in most measure of governance, human rights and transparency. However, I cite Kenya for its failure to serve the needs of its people in dealing effectively with the ongoing drought and the predicted heavy rains associated with El Niño. The post-election violence in early 2008 caused widespread dislocations in farming areas, and many people are afraid to return home for fear of continued ethnic revenge killings. Then persistent drought conditions exacerbated the situation by causing food shortages and further violence over control of water resources and pastures. An estimated 10 million Kenyans are affected by current food shortages, caused by crop failures, rising food prices and the decimation of livestock due to a viral disease. Agencies such as the World Food Programme are feeding Kenyans while the government does very little to meet the needs of its people. The anticipated flooding will surely make the current situation worse, but no plan of action is forthcoming from the unity government.

Good governance looks remarkably similar in those countries that practice it, but bad governance has many faces. It prevents the people from exercising their human rights; it fails to keep people safe from rampaging security forces it cannot or will not control, and it ignores the needs of its people in their times of greatest peril. The question is: how does a government move from one end of the scale to another?

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