By Jay Naidoo
The 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the most comprehensive in Africa, launched on Monday by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, reveals that improvement in overall governance in Africa over the past 10 years has been held back by a widespread deterioration in the category of Safety and Rule of Law. It is driven down by decline in subcategories of Personal Safety and National Security. Almost two-thirds of African citizens live in a country in which safety and rule of law have deteriorated in the last 10 years. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that without the rule of law citizens will experience a decline in governance and overall quality of life, intensifying repression and even armed conflict.
In our backyard we see such armed conflict growing in Mozambique, the DRC and exploding into civil war further north in South Sudan and Libya. In many other countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt, political and civic space is closing fast.
Our demands for fundamental liberties, encompassing human, labour, gender, sexual orientation, community and land rights are met by political elites’ concerted push to strangle citizen action through laws, policies, financial restrictions, intimidation and outright violence. As one of the richest continents in the world, the Index has recorded the Sustainable Economic Opportunity category as the lowest scoring and slowest improving category. With close to 60% of the remaining uncultivated agricultural land in the world, Africa is still the epicentre of global hunger, with approximately 240-million people malnourished just in sub-Saharan Africa. Our richest asset, human capital, is underdeveloped and natural and mineral resources, are exported as commodities rather than beneficiated on our continent.
As Mo Ibrahim says, “Even when we have a bonanza like oil or mineral exports we don’t invest much of the revenues in improving the quality of life of our people.” And yet, Africa is a shining example of what can be done in telecommunications. The biggest progress has been achieved in the sub-category Infrastructure, driven by a massive improvement in the indicator Digital and IT Infrastructure, the most improved of all 95 indicators. However, the average score for Infrastructure still remains low, with the indicator Electricity Infrastructure registering a particularly worrying decline in 19 countries, home to 40% of Africa’s population. And this in a continent where over 600-million people have no energy security in the first place.
Our greatest challenge of economic development in Africa is the challenge of stagnation in the big locomotives of African growth where 50% of our citizens live such as SA, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia,DRC and Algeria. At the same time our governments are focusing too much on GDP growth and not enough on distribution of wealth, increasing inequality and poverty in its wake. So what does the Ibrahim Index mean for us in South Africa? A whole lot.
While South Africa is still in the top 10 performing countries in terms of the MIF Index of African Governance, it reflects the tenth most deteriorated performance among 54 African countries over the last decade. Given the shenanigans of predatory elites in our government it is not hard to imagine why – and that’s not counting the data for 2016 which would have seen a greater decline than from number three in the rankings to number six.
In Safety and Rule of Law, South Africa registers a decline (-5.9) over the past decade with its full in score in Accountability (-13.1) being the fourth largest deterioration in this subcategory in Africa, with Corruption and Bureaucracy, Corruption Investigation and Diversion of Public Funds featuring among the country’s 10 most worsening indicators over the decade.
Clearly the data is not lying. The trends validate the discontent and anger that are growing in the country. The current public debate on “state capture” is not the invention of some sinister foreign or media agenda. It is the reality that robs us of the resources to improve the daily lives of the majority of our people, millions of whom are jobless and living in poverty and deprived of even the most basic services of water, sanitation, housing, quality education and health.
In Participation and Human Rights (-1.2), South Africa registers declines in all constituent subcategories, the only country out of the 10 largest economies and most populous countries in Africa to do so over the decade. Electricity Infrastructure features among the country’s 10 most deteriorated indicators over the decade. Meanwhile, the Public Management sub-category registers a decline of -5.0 points, driven by deterioration in the Transparency of State-owned Companies (-25.0) indicator, which again features among the country’s 10 most deteriorated pointers over the decade.
Worsening performance in Human Development (-2.3) results in South Africa being the sixth most deteriorated country in this category, triggered by declines in the sub-categories Education (-5.0) and Welfare (-2.9).
In contrast to the regional positive trend (+2.1), South Africa deteriorates in Human Development (-2.3) and two subcategories, registering southern Africa’s largest decline in Education (-5.0).
It is very clear that we are rudderless and that the political centre in both the government and the ruling party, the ANC, is not holding together. We are on a slippery slope and if we don’t deal with our decline decisively, we risk sliding into a failed state. And recovery from that fall of the precipice of dashed expectations and social conflict can take us decades.
So what is to be done?
Good governance and ethical leadership are not luxuries. They are a prerequisite for our success. Our public institutions, which are already facing an onslaught on their governance and independence, must be defended by us all. Transparency and accountability of all expenditure, driven through the National Treasury, must be deepened.
It’s time to reclaim power from our elites, irrespective of their political complexion. Business, normally too afraid to stand up unless their pockets are directly affected, can’t stand on the sidelines any more. We cannot tolerate the return of a Goebbels-driven state broadcaster and embedded journalism that emasculates our media.
Much of current civil society is not fit for purpose. It is often tied by the umbilical cord to vested interests or heavily dependent on donor funding. It is time to return to the painstaking work of organising our communities. There are no short-cuts. Such work demands a long-term commitment, the highest standards of ethical behaviour and campaigns that at all times must be committed to building unity and peace through non-violent action. It is time for the return of fearless journalism that lifts the veil of secrecy on the scandals of maladministration.
It is time for those men and women of courage in the civil service and political class to take a stand. As Steve Biko famously said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Today we have everything to lose, in particular the freedom and democracy that so many in our country paid so heavily to win.
Jay Naidoo, the author of this piece published originally in Daily Maverick, (October 3rd, 2016), is founding General Secretary of Congress of South African Trade Unions, (COSATU), a Minister in Mandela Government and former Chair of GAIN, the Geneva based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, (GAIN). He is a member of the board of Mo Ibrahim Foundation.