News & Media / Defining governance

Defining governance

17 August, 2016

The concept of governance has a long provenance and can be traced back to at least 400 B.C.E. There is no universally accepted definition of governance, with the parameters of the concept varying according to different institutions:

  • World Bank: “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”
  • UNDP: “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations, and mediate their differences.”
  • Worldwide Governance Indicators: “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country in exercised. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.”
  • Institute on Governance: “what determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered.”

We at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation define governance as:

the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.

Our definition of governance is considered from the viewpoint of the citizen. As our founder Dr Mo Ibrahim says:

Governance is about delivering on a promise. The central challenge of government is to improve the quality of life of citizens.

The framework of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) reflects this ethos and has been constructed by the MIF Board and the IIAG Advisory Council to have four overarching dimensions (or categories) which comprehensively cover the goods and services a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state: Safety & Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. These measures represent the Foundation’s definition of governance and provide a citizen-centric governance framework around which to organise underlying data and construct the IIAG.

Defining Governance

Although there is no consensus on the definition of governance, there is a general agreement that governance encompasses the dimensions of authority, decision-making and accountability. The founders of the Worldwide Governance Indicators assert that fundamental aspects of governance are “graft, rule of law and government effectiveness”. Other dimensions are “voice and accountability, political instability and violence, and regulatory burden.”

On the other hand, the World Bank CPIA indicators list dimensions of governance as: property rights and rule-based governance; the quality of budgetary & financial management; the efficiency of revenue mobilisation; the efficiency of public expenditures; and transparency, accountability and corruption.

The IIAG serves as a quantifiable tool to accurately measure and monitor African governance performance, its progress over time and across countries. The overall governance score gives an indication of how ‘well governed’ each African country is. As noted by Kofi Annan:

good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.

Sign up to enews