Standards of governance are gradually improving across Africa. Although the performance of some nations has deteriorated in fields such as the rule of law, economic opportunity and citizens’ participation in government, every country on the continent has seen at least some improvement in the indicators of human development since the turn of the century.

These in broad outline are the conclusions to be drawn from the latest edition of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the continent’s most wide-ranging survey of the way 52 of its nations are ruled.

While there are few surprises in the performances reported for most countries, this year’s index – building on innovations steadily introduced since the index was launched in 2007 – provides a richer and more nuanced picture of progress across the continent than seen before.

Giving his take on the findings of this year’s index, Mo Ibrahim, the chair of the foundation which publishes it, said they highlight “widespread improvements” across Africa.

“They show that 94 percent of people living in Africa now live in a country that has demonstrated overall governance improvement since 2000,” Ibrahim said. “Eighteen out of the 52 countries analysed saw their best ever performance.”

But he noted that average scores in the field of safety and the rule of law had declined. “If this deterioration is not turned around,” he warned, “it could signal an era where, despite fewer regional conflicts, we will see an increase in domestic social unrest across Africa.”

There is little change from last year to the list of the continent’s best- and worst-governed countries.

The best are, from the top, Mauritius, Botswana, Cape Verde, the Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Tunisia, Lesotho and Senegal (which replaces Tanzania at 10th place). The worst are, from the bottom, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Chad, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Republic of Congo (which replaces Nigeria).

More interesting are the lists of countries whose governance has improved or deteriorated the most in the 12 years since 2000. The five countries which have done the best are Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi, and those which have done the worst are Madagascar, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and Libya.

The details of each country’s scores suggest a correlation between the broadening of democracy in recent years and improved governance in Liberia and Sierra Leone, whereas Angola and Rwanda have a better showing on economic indicators. The precipitous backsliding of Madagascar and Libya reflect the illegal seizure of power in the former in 2009 and the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi in the latter in 2011.

The performance of a country is measured on an index where 100 reflects the best, and 0 the worst. The four main fields surveyed for the index are: “safety and rule of law” (based on 23 indicators), “participation and human rights” (19 indicators); “sustainable economic opportunity” (30 indicators); and “human development” (22 indicators, which measure education, health and welfare services).

An examination of the details of the performance of those countries which have shown the most progress:

Liberia is the country which has seen the most dramatic improvement since 2000. Although it is still only in 29th place on a list of best-governed countries, its index shows a steady rise from 25.6 in 2000 to 50.3 in 2012. It is the country which showed the most improvement in three of the four main fields surveyed – safety/rule of law, participation/human rights and economic opportunity. Its best performance is in participation/human rights, where it ranks 19th among the 52 nations.

Angola jumped from 26.4 to 44.5 on the index between 2000 and 2012. It features among the five most improved countries in all four fields, but scored poorly compared to most countries for human rights and the accountability of its government. However, it is the second most-improved nation on the continent for economic opportunity and human development. It is the 39th best-governed nation on the continent.

Sierra Leone moved from 33.3 to 48 over the 12 years. Its improvement in safety/rule of law is second only to Liberia’s and it holds 23rd place in the continent’s rankings in this field. It is in 22nd place in participation and human rights, featuring in the top half of the rankings after its successful multi-party elections.

Rwanda – which moved from 46.9 to 57.8 – scores exceptionally well for improvements in human development, where it has been the country whose score has increased the most since 2000, pushing it to 12th place among African nations. It is Africa’s top nation in promoting gender equality, with a score of 90.2. It has also done well in providing economic opportunities, holding 8th place on the continent in this field. Its business environment in the second best in the continent, behind only that of Mauritius. It scores high for accountability but lower for the rule of law and is among the 10 worst countries in Africa for participation and human rights, according to the index.

Burundi has moved since 2000 from 35 to 43.8 on the index. It is one of the top five improved countries in participation and human rights and scores well on gender equality.

Of the countries which have deteriorated most since 2000:

Madagascar has slipped back the most, plunging from a high of 58.5 in 2007 to 49.1 in 2009 (and 45.7 in 2012). Its state of human development has remained about the same, but there has been a deterioration in economic opportunities and particularly in safety/rule of law, human rights and participation, where it is only one place above Rwanda.

Eritrea, which has been under the authoritarian rule of Isaias Afewerki for two decades, is among the five worst-ruled countries in Africa with a score on the index of 31.9. It scores uniformly badly among all indicators of governance, escaping the bottom five only in the field of human development, where it is the sixth-worst performer.

Guinea Bissau scores 37.1 on the index, the seventh worst-governed country in Africa, escaping the bottom 10 only in the field of participation/human rights, where it is ranked 35th among nations.

Somalia scores 8, the worst-governed country on the continent, not only overall but also in all the indicators that make up the index: safety/rule of law, participation/human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.

Libya’s score on the index peaked in 2008 at 50.8, then slid to 40.3 in 2011 and slightly improved to 45.3 in 2012. This did not keep it out of the group of the five countries to see the most deterioration, however. But it remains among the 10 African countries with the best infrastructure and the best education, and it holds the number two spot in Africa for its healthcare.

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