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?
Citizens are key actors in governance in general by the right given to them to choose their leaders through an electoral process and the power they have to contest the decisions made by these leaders. Therefore, governance performance in any given country must reflect the citizens' choices, and hence they must be the first accountable in the deterioration of governance.
However, in many countries, citizens’ voices are still ‘highjacked’ by politicians with false electoral promises or the prevalence of electoral frauds and an institutional framework that does not guarantee their liberties and transparency and accountability in the process of decision-making. The democratisation of nations is the foundation of a system that can enable the citizens' voices to be heard, but this process also requires the leaders' contributions.
How can African leaders better engage their citizens in decision-making processes?
African leaders must include citizens and all stakeholders in decision-making by enabling transparent mechanisms that encourage citizens’ participation and/or engagement and build a trustful and accountable system.
Also, a country’s level of democracy , in my opinion, is a key indicator of citizens' participation. Therefore, democracy is the first step towards good governance because it is the foundation of a system that allows citizens' participation and guarantees and protects their rights and liberties. With regards to Africa’s overall governance performance, the 2020 IIAG shows a deterioration in the African average score for Security & Rule of Law (-0.7) and Participation, Rights & Inclusion (-1.4) over the last decade. These categories include indicators which assess transparency and accountability, citizens’ rights and participation. Rather than seeing certain actors such as civil society, opposition leaders and the media as a threat, African leaders should hear them out and engage in dialogue with them and other stakeholders in the process of decision-making.
These actors play an essential role in raising the awareness of society and leaders on public issues and eventually, they can contribute to finding solutions to these problems if the leaders hear their voices and see them as partners rather than enemies. Therefore, African leaders should focus on building and consolidating the foundations of democracy and allow voices to be heard and this is the best way citizens can contribute to decision-making processes.
Why do you think African citizens are now less satisfied with their country’s governance performance than they were a decade ago?
Economic needs in many African countries seem to be the main reason to explain the degradation of African citizens' level of satisfaction with governance performance. This situation is exacerbated, in some countries, by political oppression and the lack of political freedoms.
Although many African countries have seen substantial economic progress over the last decades, the growth generated has not created sufficient job opportunities. The youth population, which is the most affected by unemployment, is growing in Africa but job opportunities are shrinking.
Substantial efforts also need to be put to reduce poverty and inequality, improve access to clean water and electricity, improve access to education and healthcare, prevent and combat corruption and guarantee political freedoms and transparency. For example, a report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2017, showed that 10 of the world's 19 unequal countries in terms of income distribution are found in Africa. Another issue is that the world's longest-serving heads of state and governing political parties are in Africa.
We can see that many crises on the continent in the last ten years were directly or indirectly linked with economic need and political reasons and are manifested by anti-government sentiment and mass protests. These include, the Arab Spring, recurrent xenophobic violence in South Africa, military coups and demonstrations against long-standing leaders and unconstitutional political changes in Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Sudan, DRC for example, as well as post-electoral protests in Burundi, Gabon, Guinea to name a few.
What are some of the key elements that impact citizens' perceptions of governance performance?
The key elements that impact citizens' perceptions of governance performance are their expectations from governments and the latter's ability to fulfil them. These expectations are demands such as access to quality education and healthcare, job opportunities, access to clean water and energy, transparency and accountability, and guarantee and protection of citizens' rights.