Defend Truth


Good Governance is our right, not a privilege


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the most comprehensive in Africa, launched on Monday by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, reveals that improvement in overall governance in Africa over the past 10 years has been held back by a widespread deterioration in the category of Safety and Rule of Law. It is driven down by decline in subcategories of Personal Safety and National Security.

Almost two-thirds of African citizens live in a country in which safety and rule of law have deteriorated in the last 10 years. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that without the rule of law citizens will experience a decline in governance and overall quality of life, intensifying repression and even armed conflict.

In our backyard we see such armed conflict growing in Mozambique, the DRC and exploding into civil war further north in South Sudan and Libya. In many other countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt, political and civic space  is  closing fast.

Our  demands  for fundamental liberties, encompassing  human, labour, gender, sexual orientation, community and land rights  are met by political elites’ concerted push  to strangle citizen action through laws, policies, financial restrictions, intimidation and outright violence.

As one of the richest continents in the world, the Index has recorded the Sustainable Economic Opportunity category as the  lowest scoring and slowest improving category. With close to 60% of the remaining uncultivated agricultural land in the world, Africa is still  the epicentre of global hunger, with approximately 240-million people malnourished just  in sub-Saharan Africa. Our  richest  asset,  human capital, is underdeveloped and natural and mineral resources,  are exported as commodities rather than beneficiated on our continent. 

As Mo Ibrahim says, “Even when we have a bonanza like oil or mineral exports we don’t invest much of the revenues in improving the quality of life of our people.”

And yet, Africa is  a shining example of what can be done in telecommunications. The biggest progress has been achieved in the sub-category  Infrastructure,  driven by a massive improvement in the indicator  Digital and IT Infrastructure, the most improved of all 95 indicators. However, the average score for  Infrastructure  still remains low, with the indicator  Electricity Infrastructure  registering a particularly worrying decline in 19 countries, home to 40% of Africa’s population. And this in a continent where over 600-million people have no energy security in the first place. 

Our greatest challenge of economic development in Africa is the challenge of stagnation in the big locomotives of African growth where 50% of our citizens live such as SA, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia,DRC and Algeria. At the same time our governments are focusing too much on GDP growth and not enough on distribution of wealth, increasing inequality and poverty in its wake. 

So what does the  Ibrahim  Index mean for us in South  Africa?  A whole lot.

While South Africa is still in the top 10 performing countries in terms of the MIF Index of African Governance,  it reflects the tenth most deteriorated performance among 54 African countries over the last decade. Given the shenanigans of predatory elites in our government it is not hard to imagine why  –  and that’s not counting the data for 2016 which would have seen a greater decline than from number three in the rankings to number six.

In Safety and Rule of Law, South Africa registers a decline (-5.9) over the past decade with its full in score in Accountability (-13.1) being the fourth largest deterioration in this subcategory in Africa, with Corruption and Bureaucracy, Corruption Investigation and Diversion of Public Funds featuring among 
the country’s 10 most worsening indicators over the decade.

Clearly the data is not lying. The trends validate the discontent and anger that are growing in the country. The current public debate on “state capture” is not the invention of some sinister foreign or media agenda. It is the reality that robs us of the resources to improve the daily lives of the majority of our people, millions of whom are jobless and living in poverty and deprived of even the most basic services of water, sanitation, housing, quality education and health.

In Participation and Human Rights (-1.2), South Africa registers declines in all constituent subcategories, the only country out of the 10 largest economies and most populous countries in Africa to do so over the decade. 

Electricity Infrastructure features among the country’s 10 most deteriorated indicators over the decade. Meanwhile, the Public Management sub-category registers a decline of -5.0 points, driven by deterioration  in  the  Transparency of State-owned Companies (-25.0)  indicator, which again features among the country’s 10 most deteriorated  pointers  over the decade. 

Worsening performance in Human Development (-2.3) results in South Africa being the sixth most deteriorated country in this category, triggered by declines in the sub-categories Education (-5.0) and Welfare (-2.9). 

In contrast to the regional positive trend (+2.1), South Africa deteriorates in Human Development (-2.3) and two subcategories, registering southern Africa’s largest decline in Education (-5.0). 

It is very clear that we are rudderless and that the political centre in both the government and the ruling party, the ANC, is not holding together. We are on a slippery slope and if  we don’t deal  with  our decline  decisively, we risk sliding into a failed state.  And recovery from that fall of the precipice of dashed expectations and social conflict can take us decades.

So what is to be  done?

Good governance and ethical leadership are not luxuries. They are a prerequisite for our success. Our public institutions, which are  already facing an onslaught  on  their  governance  and independence,  must be defended by us all. Transparency and accountability of all expenditure, driven through the National Treasury, must be deepened. 

It’s time to reclaim power from our elites, irrespective of their political complexion. Business,  normally too afraid to stand up unless their pockets are directly affected,  can’t stand on the sidelines  any more. We cannot tolerate the return of a Goebbels-driven state broadcaster and embedded journalism that emasculates our media.

Much of current civil society is not fit for purpose. It is often tied by the umbilical cord to vested interests or heavily dependent on donor funding. It is time to return to the painstaking work of organising our communities. There are no short-cuts. Such work demands a long-term commitment, the highest standards of ethical behaviour and campaigns that at all times must be committed to building unity and peace through non-violent action. It is time for the return of fearless journalism that lifts the veil of secrecy on the scandals of maladministration.

It is time for those men and women of courage in the civil service and political class to take a stand. As Steve Biko famously said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Today we have everything to lose, in particular the freedom and democracy that so many in our country paid so heavily to win.  DM

The 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)

The Index uses 95 indicators, derived from data from 34 leading research organisations including public opinion surveys and is used as a policy tool by civil society, policy makers, academics, development organisations and investors in Africa. 

Jay Naidoo sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. This is his personal reflection on what the Index means for South Africa.


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