Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question – Yuval Noah Harari
There is one thing that makes the Mo Ibrahim Foundation undeniably different; it is a courageous African response to governance problems facing the continent. The founder and chair of the foundation, Mr. Mo Ibrahim, deserves all the commendation for putting his money where his mouth is, as they say.
The Sudanese – British billionaire has been squaring up intellectually to the demon of poor governance in Africa in the last 10 years. The resonance of Ibrahim’s categorical intervention is felt yearly in the debate about “good governance” in Africa when the governance index is released and the winner of the $5 million – worth leadership ward is announced.
Two days ago, the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) was launched by the foundation, ranking the 54 African countries on the basis of clearly defined indices.
For clarity, the 2018 index actually takes a view of governance in the last 10 years.
Although Nigeria is rated 33rd out of 54 African countries, there is a general streak of optimism for governance on the continent running through the report. Despite Nigeria’s poor overall ranking, it is remarkable that the country is noted in the report to have recorded remarkable improvement in gender equality in the work place.
As Ibrahim himself observes, governance in Africa is “on average, slowly improving” with about three out of four African citizens living “in a country where governance has improved over the last ten years.”
According to the foundation, governance means, “the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and service that every citizen has the right to expect from their state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.”
In making the assessment, the dimensions explored include sustainable economic opportunity; participation and human rights; transparency and accountability and safety and the rule of law. Multiple sources provided the data, which the foundation experts processed in order to come up with their verdict. No matter the criticism of the report that you may have, it cannot be denied that the brief has been executed with tremendous courage in the last 10 years.
The advocacy for “good governance” became prevalent especially in Africa and other parts of the underdeveloped world after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Consequently, the socio-political landscape got engulfed with the triumphalism of liberal democracy. The wave of “democratisation” was also felt in Africa. So the prescription of the fundamentals of market economy are usually accompanied with the drive for “good governance’ by the West and their powerful financial institutions.
As a matter of fact, before then the dominant phrase in development debates in Africa was “people-centred development” as envisioned in the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action. Experts talked of the basic needs in education, health, jobs, food, housing etc.
By the way, this was a plan drawn up at the initiative of African governments and people’s organisations themselves. It was meant to be an African answer to an African question. Eminent scholar, Professor Adebayo Adedeji, who passed on earlier in the year, was an intellectual pillar of that plan. Before then, Adedeji was a minister of economic planning in the regime of General Yakubu Gowon.
However, few years later the ruinous Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was imposed. The “good governance” slogan became the political accompaniment of SAP. And Africa has not fully recovered from the ruins of SAP more than 30 years after the wild socio-economic experiment.
The point being made here is that “good governance” is actually an ideological euphemism for the “people—centred development.” Pray, for whom is governance good? This is the question that development experts and technocrats often ignore.
Yet, the reality of every day life is that there is a class character to economic development and political governance. After all, from the perspective of the elite, building a needless airport in a backward state where rural roads are not motorable and potable water a luxury is “development.” But that is not “people-centred development.”
The courage embodied in the Ibrahim Index is that three decades after African countries claimed to have found answers to underdevelopment through neo-liberal economic pills and good governance, a man of African origin with the means is scientifically questioning the efficacy of the answers.
After all, as the historian, Yuval Noah Harari, puts it, those ‘”questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.” Therefore, the professed answers to the developmental questions should also be questioned. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation conducts a yearly examination in this respect. The examination is clinical.
Despite the optimistic tinge in the report, the result is worrisome. Well-known truths about the African condition are honestly affirmed in the report. For instance, it is recorded that that there is hardly any progress in welfare and social protection while education is tragically on the decline. Here, the problem begins with basic education. Shamefully, there are millions of children of school age who are out of school mostly in Nigeria. Poor nutrition and joblessness are other low points in the report. When you add population growth to these poor human development indices, the picture becomes grimmer. This picture is painted on a case-by-case basis for each country in Africa.
This year’s cumulative result of 10 years of assessment is, therefore, worth studying critically by those concerned with the theory and practice of development in Africa.
That is why more scientific initiatives should be welcome to interrogate the economic development policies and liberal democracy on the on the continent.
Taking a broad view of the quality of governance in the last 10 years, what the 2018 Index says specifically in respect of Nigeria should be instructive to those in charge of governance at all levels as well as those seeking power at present. Concomitantly, the short history of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership has also sent some coded message to Nigeria. The $5 million prize is awarded yearly to a former executive African head of state or government who is adjudged by the foundation to have been a good example of governance while in office. To be qualified the former head state or government must have been elected into office. Yet no former president of Nigeria has won the prize. Nelson Mandela of South Africa won the prize in 2007. Other past winners are Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique), Festus Mogae (Botswana), Pedro De Verona Pires (Cape Verde), Hifikepunye Pohamba (Namibia), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia).
The index and prize should interest Nigerians especially in this season that development issues ought to be widely discussed.
After all, the themes from which the index is calibrated are of those issues Nigeria is contending with at the moment. These include the issues of poverty eradication, popular participation, security and genuine freedom.