The Mo Ibrahim Foundation on October 10 awarded former Cape Verde president Pedro Verona Pires its 2011 prize for Achievement in African Leadership. At the same time, the foundation published its index of the state of government in Africa. The top five (best) were Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, Seychelles and South Africa. The bottom five (worst) were the Central African Republic, Congo, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Somalia.
The foundation awarded the leadership prize to Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007 and to Festus Mogae of Botswana in 2008. But, in 2009 and 2010, the Ibrahim Foundation was unable to find a former African chief of state who met the prize’s criteria. The absence of a winner for two years in a row was widely taken as an indictment of the quality of African leadership. Pires only became eligible for consideration this year when he left office upon the conclusion of his second term. He not only presided over the economic transformation of Cape Verde – it is the only African country in the past decade to ‘graduate’ from the UN’s ‘least developed’ category – he resisted calls that he amend the constitution so that he could run for a third term. Cape Verde is a functioning democracy: Freedom House characterizes the country as ‘free’, and it is the only country to get Freedom House’s top score for both political and civil rights. In its statement congratulating Pires, the U.S. Department of State highlighted Pires’s role in Cape Verde’s successful transition from one-party to multi-party governance.
The Mo Ibrahim prize is rich. The laureate receives an initial payment of five million dollars U.S. and an annual payment for life of two hundred thousand dollars.
The Ibrahim Governance Index statistically monitors African governance using fifty-seven criteria divided into four categories: safety and the rule of law, participation and human rights, economic opportunity, and human development. As Mo Ibrahim intended, the index is used by civil society groups to hold governments accountable. Notably, the Democratic Alliance in South Africa has criticized the Zuma government for South Africa’s relatively low score with respect to personal security.
It is possible to quibble with any index. Nevertheless, it strikes me that the Ibrahim Index is particularly successful in identifying the best and the worst. It is striking that three of the index’s highest performing nations are islands – Mauritius, Cape Verde, and Seychelles. All three have relatively small populations, relatively high incomes, and are integrated into the international economy. Botswana’s population is also very small and largely consists of a single ethnic group. The country has immense resources that have been carefully managed from the beginning. (Since independence, Botswana’s democracy has been uninterrupted.) South Africa, of course, is the continent’s economic power house. But, the country’s population is large and divided by race, class and ethnicity; its high score highlights the relative success of its post-apartheid governance.
All five are encouraging examples of the growth of good governance and democracy in Africa.