Africa’s tomorrow depends on empowering its people today


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and former chair of Gain, a global foundation fighting malnutrition in the world.

Today Africa stands at a crucial crossroads. How do we stop acting as 54 separate autonomous countries and embrace regional integration and build economic growth on the basis of social inclusion and public accountability? How do we build an African market that positions us competitively in the global economy but also meets the basic needs of our one billion citizens?

If Africa is rising, why are we so poor? We walk on gold, platinum, diamonds. Our mineral wealth powers up the global economy. We hold two-thirds of the remaining arable land in the world, with over 15% of its forests and 20% of the land surface. Our oceans are a global hub of rich marine resources that mainly benefit large industrialised nations’ trawling fleets. But we, the African people, remain poor.”

This is the narrative I am hearing in the villages and slums that I visit across Africa.

Undoubtedly governance is improving across Africa in the last 14 years. The 2014 Mo Ibrahim Index Governance Index combines 130 variables from 34 independent African and global sources. It is the first African Foundation to build a composite index to measure the delivery of public goods that our governments have a legal obligation to provide and that citizens have a right to demand.

As Mo Ibrahim said at the launch, “Africa is progressing, but the story is complex and does not fit into stereotypes. Even if the overall picture looks good, we must all remain vigilant and not get complacent.”

The past global economic boom created more investment in infrastructure and the African economies grew faster than was seen across global trends. It did mean more countries invested in infrastructure and this drove the category of Sustainable Economic Opportunity. Given the global economic climate in the last five years, this improvement stalled.

Today Africa stands at a crucial crossroads. The choice is simple. How do we stop acting as 54 separate autonomous countries and embrace regional integration and build economic growth on the basis of social inclusion and public accountability? How do we build an African market that positions us competitively in the global economy but also meets the basic needs of our one billion citizens?

Clearly more has to done to build the leadership and political will to connect our energy, transport and other infrastructure grids. More has to be done to enable the free flow of people, goods and services. Instead we see more countries introduce restrictions and erecting more trade barriers. In South Africa we occasionally hear the rumblings of xenophobia that explode into open violence.

But we could also take a positive road, and embrace our youth dividend: we can harness the telecommunications economic success that has seen Africa becoming the fastest growing market in the world with over 800m mobile phones and harness this technological revolution to change how we deliver health, education and skills that grow livelihoods and entrepreneurs. This would reverse the stagnant growth we have seen in the category of Sustainable Economic Opportunity. We are exporting millions of jobs because we export our commodities without adding any value to many of our raw materials.

What we need is a strategy of industrialisation that is regionally co-ordinated.

There are some seriously worrying signs. National security may have improved dramatically as cross-border violence between states has dropped. But the failure within countries to manage diversity, the rising inequality and joblessness have all heightened domestic conflict and violence. Our young generations, half of whom are under 19, feel marginalised, locked out from pathways of hope and opportunity. They feel they are growing up in an environment of exclusion and political frustration, where the status quo rules, and which is viewed as only enriching the economic and political elites. This a fertile ground for the emergence of extremism in the form of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, and the rise in criminal gangs that are terrorising their poor neighbourhoods.

Even continent’s best-governed countries, namely Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, South Africa and the Seychelles, show worrying signs. In 2013 report, the Safety & Rule of Law category continues to expose concerning trends, with 12 countries showing their weakest performance since 2000.

We also must reflect on North Africa and the ‘Arab Spring’. The data also shows that the management of transition has a dramatic impact on governance. Egypt dropped 14 places in the overall rankings (from 12th to 26th) and Libya dropping 15 places (from 27th to 43rd). But Tunisia, which has managed its transition more smoothly, has still remained in the top 10.

The lesson for South Africa is that, while we have progressed up to number four in overall ranking, we have also seen a decline in the categories of Participation & Human Rights and Safety & Rule of Law. The issue of personal safety and handling of public protests, the weakness of civil society organisations that are able to represent the legitimate grievances that residents have over the delivery of public services, all fuel political dissatisfaction. The examples of the Marikana massacre and the public debacle over Nkandla are alarming indicators that public accountability is backsliding.

Even if overall governance trends are positive, contrasting performance in the 2014 Governance Index is of concern. The strength and sustainability of Africa’s future prosperity will be defined by the continent’s commitment to all governance dimensions, including safety, security, and the rule of law,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Prize Committee.

The data also throws up some surprises. Countries in the bottom half of the rankings register the largest improvements over the past five years. Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Niger have changed course since 2009, from negative trajectories to become the biggest improvers on the continent. This progress has been driven in large part by gains in Participation & Human Rights.

With a growing electorate that has demonstrated a desire to be heard, the results of the 2014 Governance Index confirm that Participation & Human Rights is a crucial aspect of governance that governments cannot ignore,” said Mary Robinson, Board Member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Human Development has remained a positive movement, albeit from a low base. All sub-categories and 41 out of 52 countries have seen an improvement over the past five years, with a quarter of these having improved by more than +5.0 points. Health in the last five years, in all its underlying indicators, which measure issues such as maternal mortality, immunisation and undernourishment, has registered progress. But what the Ebola crisis has shown is that not enough has been invested in building public health systems.

The 2014 Governance Index underscores the need to focus on building equitable and efficient institutions, such as health systems, accountability mechanisms and statistical offices. Without these, we will not be able to meet the challenges we face – from strengthening the rule of law to managing shocks such as the Ebola virus,” concluded Hadeel Ibrahim, Founding Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The message from the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Governance Index is clear. Good leadership and good governance are what drives accountability, transparency and social cohesion and the economic and political success of Africa. The narrative and reality of Africa Rising still lie in our hands. DM