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Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Citizens' Voices - Economic Opportunity

Following the launch of the 2020 IIAG, the Foundation’s Now Generation Network (NGN) reflect on findings from the new Citizens’ Voices section of the Index which showcases African citizens perceptions of governance performance.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Why are citizens’ voices important for ensuring good governance?

The greatest weapon we as African citizens can hand over to our governments is the realisation that they, the government, will not be held accountable. This is true not only in Africa, but also in any democracy, including more mature ones.  Martin Luther King once said that: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.  If the default reaction to perceived injustices is silence, there is no real incentive for the government to do anything differently and worse still, such silence could be interpreted as an approval of the government. The more people speak up, the more pressure will be mounted on politicians to deliver what they have been elected to do. However, speaking up could, and should, take many different forms.

Why do you think African citizens are more dissatisfied with economic opportunities in their countries?   

The scale of opportunities available in Africa is obvious not only to the citizens, but also to the rest of the world. This is why there has been an increase in foreign interests, particularly China. United Nations data shows that Nigeria has been experiencing a negative net migration since the early 80s and even though our problems seem worse in recent times, we are still yet to surpass the emigration numbers recorded in the eighties.

According to the IIAG, Nigerians’ satisfaction with economic conditions appear to have improved over the decade (from 22.9 to 42.4) and the past 5 years (from 35.6 to 42.4 ) but if I were to consider the sentiments that I perceive from Nigerians at home and in the diaspora, this data is quite surprising. Surely, the data must be more accurate than my sentiments, so I’ll have to base my comments on the assumption that people are gradually getting more satisfied, at least in Nigeria.

The picture, however, appears to be a bit grimmer when we consider the continent at large as most countries are experiencing deterioration as reported by the IIAG. A report on Labour Migration Statistics in Africa, which was jointly produced by the African Union Commission, the UN migration agency IOM, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), published in September 2020, shows that the number of migrants who had moved from one African country to another nearly doubled between 2008 and 2017 – from 13.3 million to 25.4 million people.

It therefore comes as no surprise that some member countries sometimes consider migrants from other countries, a deterrent to their home-grown economic opportunities.This combination of participation of non-African countries in economic activities and intra-continental migration could very well be the reason African citizens are more dissatisfied with economic opportunities in their home countries.

How can governments work to improve public perceptions of economic opportunities?

As a minimum, governments owe every citizen the basic infrastructure that are required to help businesses thrive. If governments were able to cover the basic needs of people and businesses, whilst not imposing unrealistic regulations and taxes that will suffocate the existence of businesses, it is likely that the public perceptions of economic opportunities will improve. 

Government policies that help companies thrive such as reducing corporation taxes if necessary, facilitating access to international markets, promoting visibility of home-grown brands internationally, improving access to capital and ensuring regulations do not become unnecessary burdens, could all potentially help. Having said this, I will be quite surprised if  governments are  not already aware of what needs to be done, so perhaps, implementation may be the issue here. 

How can citizens better vocalise their dissatisfaction with declining economic opportunities in their countries? 

In the past, citizens have taken to the streets to express their dissatisfactions and most of these protests, at best, go unnoticed, or at worst, become extremely violent and lives are lost. Whilst protests could be effective in getting the government’s attention as well as the attention of the international community, the risks that come with it sometimes makes this approach too much of a gamble as they are not always effective enough to justify the lives lost. 

In a recent discussion that I held with a group of professionals who have spent more time on the continent than I have, I asked them to share their thoughts on how citizens can best make their voices heard. Whilst some proposed using social media to engage in discussions with fellow citizens, others recommended that, where possible, citizens should create their own economic opportunities by working together to create businesses that solve social problems, in spite of the government, and not look to the government as their panacea. Perhaps, if  governments become dependent on such businesses for GDP growth, it would become easier to influence political and economic outcomes. 

Other recommendations came in the form of diaspora involvement. The assumption was that if Africans in the diaspora would join any local protests by conducting international marches, then there would be more global awareness of our local issues. Another idea was that Africans in the diaspora can help by raising funds that are significant enough to form youth-led political parties and eventually influence election outcomes. What if 140 million African citizens in the diaspora donated $100 each and found innovative ways to work with the people on the ground to influence political outcomes across all levels including the senate, house of representatives and gubernatorial? What this could mean is that even if you don’t end up with your president of choice, there would be sufficient opposition within the senate or house to hold the governors and presidents more accountable.

Having said all of this, there cannot be a successful revolution without education. The “youths” who protested our oppressors in the 80s and 90s are, perhaps, now our leaders and they have devised brand-new ways to oppress (either intentionally or unknowingly) simply because the mindset of the people that are being led has not changed significantly.