By Alex Perry
Africa is widely regarded as a world leader by measure of basket-case symptoms — war, disease, famine and humanitarian disaster. The continent has a greater share of its people mired in poverty than any other, and hosts the world's two greatest humanitarian crises, Darfur and Somalia. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to many that much of Africa is doing rather nicely, in some cases recording healthier economic expansion than in the industrialized world. Even amid the financial meltdown in the West and dire predictions of global recession, the International Monetary Fund estimates that Africa will post economic growth of 6.5% this year, although the world credit crisis could trim that to 5%. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that a larger share of the money coming into Africa since 2006 has been investment by entrepreneurs seeking profit rather than aid.
More evidence of Africa turning the corner came Monday, in the form of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's finding that governance is improving in 31 out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries. Even more astonishing, the measure of good governance showing most improvement, on a continent notorious for tyrants and bloodshed, was human rights. "Obscured by many of the headlines of the past few months, the real story coming out of Africa is that governance performance across a large majority of African countries is improving," said Ibrahim, the billionaire boss of Celtel, a pan-African mobile phone giant, at a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Ibrahim inaugurated his foundation last year to promote good governance in Africa.
"According to this comprehensive analysis, progress is being made across the continent against a range of key governance indicators," the foundations annual survey reported. Indeed, some of Africa's brightest hopes are those that until recently had been some of its most depressing stories. Several of the continent's fastest-growing economies are former war zones, such as Angola, Mozambique and Liberia, and — with Angola a notable exception — many of those are also showing most improvement in governance. The index assesses national governments against 57 criteria divided into five broad categories: safety and security; rule of law, transparency and corruption; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development. Most improved over the past year, for example, was Liberia, which lost more than 250,000 people in two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, but this year rose six places on the governance ranking to 38th. At the top of the table, meanwhile, were the perennial good performers of Africa: in order, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana and South Africa, whose economy is by far the largest in Africa and whose democracy is the biggest, although the country is afflicted by rampant violent crime.
It was Ibrahim's experiences as an entrepreneur in Africa that convinced him to set up his foundation and created a $5 million annual prize for the African leader who best personifies responsible and credible government, which he saw as the key to African development. So why are things changing now? "[As] John Githongo [Kenya's former anti-corruption czar] says, 'The democracy genie is out of the bottle,' " notes Hania Farhan, the Ibrahim foundation's director of research. "There will be violent ructions and eruptions, like Kenya or Zimbabwe or Nigeria, but the trend is there, and it is remarkable. Africans want their rights and, increasingly, they are getting them."
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