For all who live in Africa or care about its future, these are remarkable, exciting times. The story of the continent is being rewritten. Africa is no longer seen around the world as simply an exotic address for wildlife enthusiasts, get-rich-quick merchants or marauding arms dealers looking for the next trouble spot.
It is fast becoming a destination of choice for those looking to make long-term investment or set up businesses, with returns that have proven to be higher than in most other parts of the world.
The continentâ€™s natural wealth is a major attraction but so, too, is its fast increasing consumer market. As many regions continue to struggle to escape the fallout from the global financial crisis, Africaâ€™s growth is strong and the continent is widely viewed as the new economic frontier.
The sixth Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), published this week, looks at what is happening across the continent. It allows us to say that overall governance in Africa has improved since 2000. A number of countries, including Angola, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zambia, have made significant improvements over this period. But there is a shadow over this optimism.
The IIAG underlines how Africaâ€™s overall progress in the sphere of economic governance is not being matched by similar improvements in the political and human rights sphere. Indeed, it confirms how advances in governance over the last six years around Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development, which have often been impressive, have been offset by a deterioration in the areas of Participation & Human Rights and Safety & Rule of Law. Worryingly, some of Africaâ€™s regional powerhousesâ€”Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa â€“ which are so important for the continentâ€™s progress all conform to this trend.
This growing imbalance needs to be addressed. It is not just that people have the right and ambition to live under the rule of law or have a say over their future through the political process. There is also the real likelihood that the imbalance will dampen economic achievements and prevent citizens sharing fairly in growing wealth.
Without meaningful participation and independent courts, for example, countries will find it difficult to attract the investment they need to continue creating jobs or enjoy the stability necessary for sustained economic growth. We need to improve governance across the board if Africa is to make the most of its rich potential.
It was to help deliver this ambition that the IIAG was first published in 2007. Every country, with the exception of Sudan and South Sudan for which there are currently insufficient data, is assessed, robustly and independently, each year against a whole range of data to highlight improvements or deterioration in governance. The Index is not concerned with ideology or statements of goodwill and focuses on outcomes on the ground rather than inputs and commitments.
Data are examined to see whether, for example, economic opportunities for each countryâ€™s citizens are improving, whether more children are progressing to secondary education, or whether access to electricity has improved. The Index also examines less concrete achievements such as whether it is safer to walk in the streets or whether citizens can rely on the independence of their courts. It enables the performance of countries to be judged against time and their neighbours.
Looking across borders, the 2012 IIAG brings out some important differences in regional performance. While West, Central and Southern Africa are improving their overall governance scores, both North Africa and East Africa have registered declines. East Africa has been overtaken by West Africa in terms of Sustainable Economic Opportunity, driven down by Kenya and Uganda.
Within West Africa, too, Nigeria is a cause for concern. It now finds itself judged to be among the worst overall 10 performing countries of the 52 assessed for the Index. As all Africaâ€™s regional powers play a key role in shaping the continentâ€™s economic and political landscape, this failure could have significantly broader implications.
Despite the mixed picture revealed by the latest IIAG, there are grounds for cautious optimism about the future. Africa is too rich in natural and human resources to stay poor. Africans themselves are increasingly upbeat and confident about their future. What is needed is continued commitment to good governance to ensure that these resources are harnessed to achieve the results which any citizen living in the 21st century has a right to expect. It is the key to Africaâ€™s future.- The author is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and he has just stepped down as Undersecretary General of the United Nations and executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.