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Mo Ibrahim: addressing Africa's governance issues

This article by Mo Ibrahim originally appeared in The Banker on 1 October 2019.

Time is of the essence for Africa's leaders and decision-makers to act on crucial areas affecting the continent, such as climate change, inequality and demographics.

Over the past decade, governance on the African continent has continued to improve, even if the progress has been slow. We have seen many positive trends emerge, thanks to proactive steps being taken to drive critical developments in areas such as health and infrastructure. Three out of four African citizens now lives in a country where governance has improved over the past 10 years.

This measurable change highlights the important efforts of leaders and decision-makers at regional, national and local levels, who have championed sound governance and focused on the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their state.

Transformative frameworks, such as the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which pave the way for Africa’s development agenda, have also triggered progress and shifted the way decision-makers and institutions think about social, political and economic growth.

A turning point

However, Africa is now at a critical turning point. In 2010, I argued in [The Banker] that economic integration across the continent was fundamental to securing a shared, prosperous future in Africa. Now signed by all 54 countries of the continent, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), launched in Kigali in 2018, was a major step in this direction. Still, despite such progressive initiatives, more integration is needed.

Today, new challenges and raised expectations from stakeholders and citizens have extended the scope and the meaning of governance, redefining where policy-makers need to focus their efforts to drive sustainable governance progress. The African governance landscape has evolved. Our leaders must acknowledge this and reset the dial.

Areas such as environmental sustainability and widening inequalities are forcing new and rapidly evolving threats to the top of the governance agenda. Climate change is at the top of the global agenda and is a key talking point of the 2019 UN General Assembly.

Africa is disproportionately impacted by climate change. Many countries in the Sahel region – already some of the world's poorest and most fragile nations – are regarded as the most vulnerable to this issue. In these areas, the daily lives of farmers and local communities have been transformed by longer periods of drought than ever before, inflicting a huge cost on crops and livestock. The ripple effects include the displacement of people, violence and unrest, fuelling a ground already ripe for extremism. This worsening governance challenge must become central to policy-making in Africa.

Demographic challenge

Everywhere, Africa’s unprecedented demographic growth must be addressed, as the youth majority feels at once mostly devoid of economic prospects and robbed of political ownership. This demographic trend is first transforming the parameters of civic participation. Young Africans, who now make up the majority of our continent, are setting their sights on youth empowerment and the future they want to see.

Recent major changes in Sudan and Zimbabwe have shown the extent to which our young people are eager for progress and change, committed to that change, and able to make it happen. Uprisings showcase where Africa’s best and brightest have lost faith and broken trust in their governments. If Africa is going to truly harness the potential of the demographic dividend, a future must be created that our young people want to be part of and can participate in.

At the same time, the growing youth bulge is confronted with a lack of economic prospects. By 2030, 30 million youths are projected to enter the African labour market each year. More young people are joining the job market at a rate that far outstrips the number of opportunities available. In South Africa, a country with the second largest gross domestic product on the continent, 55% of young people are jobless. The link between this issue and recent xenophobic attacks in the country is obvious.

The political, social and economic challenge for Africa – and, in fact, the world – is to step up to a new set of modern challenges. So, where do we start?

Data is key

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has been advocating the use of data to track progress in African governance for several years using tools such as the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). Our conviction lies in how a wealth of information can be used to transform decision-making and drive governance progress at all levels of society.

The new report, which we will publish on 15 October, will assess the extent to which Africa is creating governance environments that facilitate progress towards the implantation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 SDGs.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of citizen-led open data initiatives to drive open government, led by Africa’s youth. In Nigeria, digital applications have been developed to monitor the implementation of the government’s projects through initiatives such as Follow the Money. More African countries need to be signatories to such initiatives, so government data can be made accessible and open to public scrutiny, to improve government transparency and accountability.

Elsewhere, data needs to be disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity and migratory status. African governments must consider how to use the data and resources available to improve policies and create environments conducive to sustainable and equitable development in today’s world.

The next decade

As we look towards the next decade, and critical deadlines such as the UN 2030 Agenda, progress in governance will remain central to achieving a prosperous and peaceful future. Addressing new challenges, such as climate change, growing inequalities and the continent’s ever-growing youth expectations, will sharpen the focus of governments and decision makers as they plan ahead.

Last, but not least, there is a key challenge: demographic growth. However impressive economic growth across the continent, it will still run far behind the current rate of demographic growth. Let us think, and talk, about family planning in a rational, responsible and efficient way. Let us not shy away. We simply do not have the time.


To learn more, look out for the Foundation’s new African Governance Report which will be released on Tuesday, 15 October.