Mo Ibrahim foundation, a continuing conversation on good governance

A friend often reminds participants at meetings he addresses that democracy is like a ‘tokolosh’ (goblin) everyone talks about it but no one has ever actually seen it. This is the dilemma we find ourselves in when each of us tries to interpret exactly what this beast called democracy is, even in the assumed most democratic countries, the notion is under close scrutiny.

A friend often reminds participants at meetings he addresses that democracy is like a ‘tokolosh’ (goblin) everyone talks about it but no one has ever actually seen it. This is the dilemma we find ourselves in when each of us tries to interpret exactly what this beast called democracy is, even in the assumed most democratic countries, the notion is under close scrutiny.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has just released its 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, opening once again the debate on political and economic governance on the continent and the inherent global contradictions, in determining their underpinning values.

I however, would like to argue that while the objective of businessman Mo Ibrahim and his compatriots is to help us on the African continent, I see danger signals for the future of best practices in fostering a culture of good governance on the continent.

The approach is deaming, and takes us back to the old age practices of traditional donors, who thrived on certain unfairly arrived at indicators, in driving their political agendas on the African continent.

For instance Africans have fought long battles against aid that comes with stringent conditions, in turn demanding transparency from the international donors, who by the way have ironically been pinned as squarely to blame for the corruption on the continent.

Consequently, politics can never be separated from these processes of evaluation; neither can the fact that there are predetermined results that are always intended.

In continuing this debate, what is totally nauseating and not helpful at all is the assumption that the African continent is the only breeding ground for dictators or worst practices in human rights promotion, needing to be rescued through such a big fund.

It takes us back to the unhelpful paradigm of anything being African having some inherently bad aspects to it, while the west brings purity and progress.

European leaders are not bribed to respect their constitutions, or to deliver for their citizens, it is a foregone conclusion, that they have an innate goodness in them.

The fact that the African continent is singled out for scrutiny and judgment by a group of experts, who then convince us who the ‘baddies’ or the ‘goodies’ on the continent are, is also in itself problematic. ‘Goodies’ and ‘baddies’ will be found in any part of the world.

This thinking is further compounded by the notion that African leaders need to be bribed to carry out their mandates properly, that is to serve their citizens in an open transparent manner that uplifts their social status.

The Mo Ibrahim prize of US$0.5m a year for 10 years then US$200,000 for life goes to the President who would have retired voluntarily, without seeking to amend the constitution.

While on the one hand the Index on African Governance seeks to assess the level of ‘good governance’ in African countries based on an assessment of four areas: Safety and Security, participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development.

One would then safely assume that a country that is consistent in delivering on the above, has a leader who is not worthy of a bribe to leave office, but rather one who understands the contract he or she has with citizens, meaning when their time is up they will voluntarily leave office.

Are we going to see our esteemed African leaders fall over each other just to benefit from the half a million dollar bribe? Or are we more concerned about genuine African leaders who are not indicator driven or sponsored to leave office?

Another question worthy throwing in, is of the same leaders continuing with their opulent, lavish lifestyles, in perpetuity, when the hallmark of a good African leader should just be simplicity.

How about an ex-president who goes to teach at a local university, and survives on an honest salary as an ordinary citizen? Would this not be breaking new ground?

Furthermore, given that the whole purpose of such a campaign is to ensure the uplifting of the status of the African people, is this noble objective not lost in the folly of a past Presidents fund?

The USD 5 million pledged on an individual can go a long way in investing in real projects aimed at bringing genuine change for citizens on the continent.

This is against a background of the ongoing discourse and struggles by Africans in trying to interpret for themselves through properly agreed on yardsticks that measure what real good governance is.

And so while the assumption again is that Africans through various institutions and processes are devoid of such a debate, it is important that the agency of their thinking is also brought to the fore.

While we continue with the debate on the efficacy of aid to Africa’s development, we can go further to interrogate what it then means to also tie our elected leaders directly to the same strings – double jeopardy.

Another point to take into account is that the debate on governance and democracy evolves with time, what was assumed good in the 90’s is now totally abhorred.

At one stage in our history, a country just by attaining self rule through dismantling colonialism was assumed to have achieved a major yardstick towards good governance, just by being under a black leadership. This has since been proved as baseless and insignificant.

This was not the case we know of the well documented post-colonial history of decades of state repression and exclusion that took place here in Rwanda for instance, culminating in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. And yet the dictatorship then was assumed legitimate, enjoying both African and western support.

Still on Rwanda which was ranked 32nd place out of 54 countries one would also like to argue that, the current context of the country’s achievements have not been fully taken into account.

We have the latest results of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, which ranked Rwanda the highest on the continent, in the fight against the vice.

We also have another report The World Bank’s Doing Business report, which also ranks Rwanda as a top reformer.

These are two credible authentic institutions, with tested and tried research and data gathering methodologies, one therefore is at pains to understand the Foundation’s methodology.

The methodology used by the researchers in coming up with the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, therefore, leaves a lot to be desired, let alone the notion that our leaders should be bribed to do good.

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