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Africa, Burma, Governance, Leadership, Zimbabwe

Governance Trumps Democracy

            Everyone wants and believes in democracy. Those of us who study democracy affirm its utility in the making and maintaining of modern nation-states. Some of our kind attempt to re-examine its roots, to fine-tune its applicability to various national situations and circumstances, and to advocate improved versions, such as deliberative democracy.[1]

Even so, there is a broad consensus among scholars and politicians. We can specify democratic fundamentals with ease: the ability to campaign for and hold political office freely; to assemble openly and without constraints; to express oneself without let or hindrance through speech, action, and in print; and to pursue a personal economic destiny without interference.[2] In democracies citizens have “voice.” They can participate freely in the process of politics and have their opinions counted. Politicians in democracies listen to their constituents, consult with them, and metaphorically or actually are in dialogue perpetually with potential voters and other citizens.

Democracy has become over the centuries, and especially in this one and the last, a broad church. It includes leaders who are 1) thoroughly democratic in word and deed – persons who indeed walk the walk as well as talking the talk – 2) leaders who profess democratic ideals but curb freedoms and harass opponents,  3) quasi-democrats who pay lip-service to the democratic ideals but honor and pursue them in the breach, and 4) autocrats who come to power democratically and then turn on their constituents.  Even brutal dictators – a fifth category — profess to being democrats.

These concerns may not resonate too well in the developed world, except in Belarus, Ukraine, possibly Russia, certainly China, and a few other outliers.  But for much of the developing world, focusing on democracy misses capturing critical distinctions between regime practices, and between the impact of those practices on outcomes for the mass of affected inhabitants and citizens. “Democracy” is both too general and too unspecific a concept to provide a full analytical understanding of how the myriad countries of the developing world actually run their affairs and deliver political goods to their citizens. The critical  political goods in question embrace and permit democracy to flourish and become meaningful. “It is hard to measure a concept as broad as democracy, and it is hard to say precisely where democratic regimes end and other forms of government begin.”[3] Thus, a more nuanced and ideologically-free investigation of how three-fifths of the world operates should dissect governance, not democracy.

Governance trumps democracy if we want to understand whether governments are in fact meeting the expectations of their constituents. Democracy outcomes are much harder to measure in this respect. Equally, if we want to compare how citizens are faring under regime X or regime Y, we need to compare governance in those respective places. Governance, further, is concept that enables us to discern exactly whether citizens are progressing in meeting life’s goals. Are they better off economically, socially, and politically than they were in an earlier decade? Are their various human causes advancing? Are their governments treating them well, and attempting in many senses to respond to their various needs and aspirations and relieving them of anxiety?

Governance tells us far more about actual results in the different developing societies than would be weighing the varieties of democracy in such places.

Exporting democracy is often a stated goal, but what world powers and the developed world seek to transfer is not only democratic practices but a whole bundle of political goods that amount to good governance.  Democracy is at once a narrower and a more abstract notion. Nation-states that have abundantly good governance perform effectively for their citizens. They deliver abundant quantities and high qualities of the essential political goods that comprise governance.

Governance: What it Is

All citizens of all countries desire to be governed well. That is what citizens want from and expect of the nation-states in which they live. Thus, nation-states in the modern world (no less in Africa, which this chapter will use as a regional example) are responsible for the delivery of essential political goods to their inhabitants. That is their purpose, and that has been their central legitimate justification since the Peace of Westphalia. These essential political goods are bundled into five categories: Safety and Security, Rule of Law and Transparency; Participation and Respect for Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. Together, these five categories of political goods epitomize the performance of any government, at any level.  No one, whether looking to her village, municipality, province, state, or nation willingly wants to be victimized by crime or to live in a society without regulations and laws; to be denied freedom to express oneself and to influence decisions; to be without a chance to prosper; and to be held back from access to decent schools, well-run hospitals and clinics, and carefully-maintained roads.[4]

Of the five categories of political goods, the paramount one is security.[5] There can be no economic growth or social elevation, and no societal strength as opposed to weakness and failure, without fundamental security. A nation-state’s prime function everywhere is thus to secure its territory – to prevent cross-border invasions and incursions; to reduce domestic threats to, or attacks upon, the national domain and the national order; to bolster human security or security of person by reducing crime — to make its city streets and rural villages safe; and hence to prevent mayhem by roving gangs, non-state actors, or marauding desperadoes. If a nation-state merely controls its capital city, if it cannot project power to the periphery, if it does not have a Weberian monopoly of the use of force within its borders, and if it cannot repress would-be secessionists and potential rebels, then the nation-state is insecure and verging on failure. Or it is already failed.

The delivery of other necessary political goods becomes feasible only when reasonable provisions of security are obtained. Good governance next requires a predictable, recognizable, systematized method of adjudicating disputes and regulating both the norms and the prevailing mores of the societies and nation-states under inspection. This second political good implies codes and procedures that together compose an enforceable body of law, security of property and enforceable contracts, an effective judicial system, and a set of norms that validate what is called the rule of law. The practical impact of a strong rule of law regime is that it enables citizens to resolve their differences with fellow inhabitants or with an overweening state without recourse to arms or physical coercion.

Each of the globe’s nation-states fashions its own rule of law. The English common law and the Napoleonic Code are but two major jurisprudential methodologies, but most sub-Saharan African dispute resolution processes follow those procedural formulae.  There are ethnically traditional methods and Sharia-like forms, too. But without some such formalized body of laws, societal bonds weaken, disputes are settled by violent means rather than peaceful parleys, and commerce (and investment) is much riskier than it would be otherwise.

A third political good certifies that citizens are participating freely, openly, and fully in a democratic political process – that they have “voice.” (This political good equates with “democracy,” but is insufficient to describe how the larger country is operating.) This third political good further encompasses the essential freedoms: the right to participate in politics and compete for office; respect and support for national and provincial political institutions, legislatures, and courts; tolerance of dissent and difference; an independent media untrammelled by executive branch surveillance and control; freedom of speech; freedom of assembly and unionization, freedom of religion; and minority rights.

A fearless and un-self censored media is even more essential than a fully independent judicial system. Few breakdowns of civil order, few state failures, have occurred in countries with an open and active media – with privately run television channels and radio stations and a vibrant press. Without such methods of criticism, the free political space shrinks, accountability is observed in the breach, and rulers and ruling elites can prey on their citizens. There can be no real democratic practice without such accountability. Nation-state failure can and often does ensue when criticism and accountability is scarce.

A fourth critical political good and major component of governance is the creation of an enabling environment permissive of, and conducive to, economic growth and prosperity at national and personal levels. This political good thus encompasses a prudently run monetary and banking system usually guided by a central bank and lubricated by a secure and strong national currency; a fiscal and institutional context within which citizens may pursue individual entrepreneurial goals without let or hindrance, and potentially prosper; and a regulatory environment appropriate to the economic aspirations and attributes of the nation-state. Where a ruling family or clan arrogates to itself most of the available sources of economic growth (from petroleum discoveries, say) and tightly distributes profit-making opportunities only to a select group of cronies and sycophants, a permissive and positive framework is falsified and political patrimony readily displaces the possibility of widespread prosperity.

Providing this fourth political good includes the other critical components that help to ensure growth for all: primary are robust arteries of commerce that contribute significantly to the possibility of sustainable economic opportunity. Among these arteries are an extensive road network, preferably paved; railways; working harbors for ocean-going or riverine trade; modern airports; rapid broadband Internet connections to the wider world; and competitive and inexpensive mobile telephone networks.

The fifth political good is one often demanded overwhelmingly by the peoples of the developing world: educational opportunity, including the provision of sufficient places in secondary schools and universities and the offering of readily available medical care in clinics and hospitals. The first assumes sufficient classrooms, teachers, and textbooks, plus perhaps computers. The second encompasses such essential health elements as clean water and sanitation, an adequate number of  physicians and nurses, abundant sutures and medicines in medical facilities, and some advanced technical equipment.




Measuring Performance

            By specifying what governance is and by spelling out the five categories of modern governance precisely, governments (and internal and external observers) can hold themselves fully to account. Their civil societies equally can scrutinize the regimes under which they work, and so can the United Nations, international lending institutions, and bilateral donors. The overriding purpose of the exercise is not merely to rank countries against other countries to show which are the well-governed and which are poorly governed. Demonstrating such results can be helpful, but even more insightful and informative is the use of this conceptual approach for diagnostic purposes. Not only can we discover which are the better governed places in sub-Saharan Africa (or anywhere else) but we can also discern which sections of a national governmental apparatus are doing well and which need improvement. On which parts of the nation’s government, in other words, should most attention and scarce funding be focused?

In order to undertake such an examination thoroughly and carefully, the five categories of political good already discussed must be further refined so that governance can properly be measured. The pioneering published Index of African Governance did so by breaking down the five major categories of political goods into fifty-seven sub-categories or variables, twenty-two under Human Development (the fifth political good), five under Safety and Security (the first), and so on.[6] The other methodological breakthrough was to attempt to measure objectively rather than subjectively. That is, the Index tried to avoid amassing quantitative scores that were derived from opinions even if those rendering opinion and passing judgment were experts or other close observers of a national or local scene. The danger of selection bias was palpable and to be avoided. The Index further focused insistently on output, not inputs. That is, in evaluating a national or local medical system a country’s health budget matters far less than how that money has been used (or siphoned off) to improve health outcomes. Good ministerial attitudes and fine words matter far less than results. No amount of jawboning can obscure a lack of discernible outcomes.

For the most part, as proxies for several of the otherwise hard to measure five major components of governance, the Index  employed for outcomes in the health arena such internationally standard variables as life expectancy and maternal mortality rates. To help calibrate Sustainable Economic Opportunity we calculated, say, a nation’s kilometres of paved roads and its GINI coefficient standing (an indication of equality). For Safety we counted homicides. For security we noted the number each year of casualties in civil warfare. Most of these data are assembled internationally by such estimable establishments as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Development Program (UNDP), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Yet, because nearly all of these resultant numbers ultimately are derived from national statistical offices, and because many of those offices are underfunded and understaffed, the development of reliable data is sometimes compromised. For that reason, the Index validated the internationally-collected quantitative sources against local ones by employing a small army of researchers in many national capitals. In some cases Index researchers even themselves  measured roads or subjected local numbers to sophisticated checking and recalibration.[7]

The result of this arduous and exacting process of Index creation and preparation was an assemblage of data with which to assess the state of governance within sub-Saharan Africa, country v country, and not against arbitrary global standards. (The same could and should be done for all countries on all continents.) Countries were scored on each variable, and across several years. For example, within the Sustainable Economic Opportunity category, countries were rated not only on the basis of their annual GDP per capita attainments, but on their levels of inflation, the extent to which their inhabitants were equal or unequal in wealth (the GINI coefficient), the integrity of their banking systems (“contract intensive money”), and the length and availability of robust arteries of commerce – such as mobile telephones, roads, and rails.

The examination of all of these components of governance, proxies though many purposefully are, permits the painting of a full portrait of each country measured. Thanks to the successive iterations of the Index, as well as from ratings supplied by the World Bank and individual non-governmental organizations, we now know with some significant precision how well and how poorly each part of the African sub-continent is governed. We also know which aspects of governance in each country need urgent attention and which are in lesser need of remedial action.  Further, we can gather a precise list of sub-Saharan Africa’s outstanding governance issues. With them in hand, the political leaders, corporate moguls, and civil societies of Africa can at the very least come to appreciate what they must do to strengthen their individual national governances. They now have the tools with which to improve their governmental performances as sub-Saharan Africa collectively and its nations individually confront the next decades’ consummate challenges: whether or not there will be a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster as sub-Saharan Africa’s total population swells dramatically, how best to harness China’s quest for African riches, how to rebuild Africa’s infrastructure and provide sufficient energy, andhow most innovatively to overcome Africa’s schooling and health deficits..

The Index of African Governance methodology (and its concomitant applicability to other geographical regions) is hardly the only governance assessment scheme. Much older and very highly regarded are those developed by Freedom House (Freedom in the World) and the World Bank (Worldwide Governance Indicators).  Freedom in the World annually declares almost every global polity (a total of 195) either free, partly free, or not free. It does so by enlisting the opinions of experts who rate the countries with which each is familiar according to a variety of relevant criteria. But the scoring and the ultimate results are inherently subjective, with abundant opportunities for selection bias.[8]

Likewise, Worldwide Governance Indicators is also subjective, based on a compilation of forty) or more relevant, but still opinion-based, opinion surveys and other indices. Selection bias possibilities are multiplied.  Its six categories of analysis are: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Lack of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption. Based on the perceptions of an array of a disparate mélange of respondents, the Indicators are derived from cross-country largely anecdota assessments of governance. The views of businesses, public officials, NGOs, aid donors, and individuals are thereby captured,  albeit sometimes arbitrarily and randomly.[9]

Another 120 or so indexes ranging from the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Program to the World Economic Forum’s  Global Competitiveness Index contribute in a variety of ways to the full understanding of “governance,” especially in the developing world.  The very well-regarded Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International provides a gold standard in its field.  But it, and nearly all of the others, are based on subjective assessments, either expert or not. Selection bias is inherent in each.[10]

Because the Index of African Governance and any similarly to-be-constructed index for another region employs and would employ  objective  (not subjective)  methods and numbers, and because such an index is comprehensive in its coverage and approach, it  has an undeniable heuristic advantage over the older, better known, and many of the newer measurement schemes.  It is also free from the taint of selection bias.  By emphasizing outputs rather than inputs, it also focuses on telling results rather than budgetary expenditures (which usually prove meaningless).


Good Governance

            Sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting the formal research and scholarship contained in the Index of African Governance, 2007, 2008, 2009) in 2013 has three kinds of governments: the clearly well-performing top ten or twelve, the desperately ill-governed bottom twelve or fifteen, and the middle twenty-two or so – all ranked according to the above measuring scheme. Using democracy as a qualifying criterion would accomplish little since there are so many varieties of “democracy” in Africa.  But employing “governance” does discriminate helpfully.

The top and bottom governance categories are easily distinguished and could probably be guessed at without sophisticated quantitative measurement efforts. (Their relative order might be harder to estimate precisely, however.)  But the great middle group would be hard to separate out without sophisticated attention to the fifty-seven variables alluded to above.

The best governed sub-Saharan African countries, year after year, are Mauritius, the Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Sao Tome and Principe, Lesotho, and Benin, usually in that order. In 2012, Tanzania and Zambia also were accorded this status by the Index. Except for South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia,  Ghana, and Benin, all are countries with fewer than 3 million inhabitants. All are countries which score very high on security; their governments have a monopoly of violence and project power to all ends of their states. Except for South Africa, all are safe countries, with relatively little crime. Their GDPs per capita are all exceptionally high for Africa. Although South Africa has poor GINI coefficient scores, the others are more equal than most. They all have excellent transport networks. None, bar Lesotho, Botswana, and Zambia is landlocked. Three are islands or archipelagos. Rule of law is exemplary in each country despite South Africa’s official worries about its Constitutional Court judgments. Mauritius and Botswana are the least corrupt countries in Africa, but the others in this top-ranking sample score reasonably well as compared to their sub-continental cohort. They each evince a solid respect for human rights and have good records regarding the media, although South Africa debated questionable legislation in 2012 and 2013. All have experienced repeated free elections and changes of regime despite the dominance of Botswana by a ruling party and a ruling family. Lesotho has been stable politically only for a decade, and there were troubles in 2012, but its high ranking is still merited. In other words, the high governance ratings of these top countries tells us something significant that could not be expressed so fully if we simply scored the same countries in terms of the attainment of “democracy.”

Our top best governed polities are literate and well-schooled places. Girls go to primary school and on to secondary school in high numbers; Mauritius and the Seychelles show almost complete schooling coverage of boys and girls through the highest secondary school levels. Tertiary educational opportunity is readily available, although the smallest of these top ten countries must obviously train their university students elsewhere. Both Mauritius and Botswana, small states by African standards, boast strong local universities. So does Lesotho. Namibia’s is less robust, but access to South Africa’s many universities is available. The medical facilities in South Africa are the best on the continent but even the smaller states in our top-scoring sample show good medical outcomes despite, in a few cases, high HIV/AIDS prevalence numbers.  Botswana has provided retroviral medicines to all HIV-positive inhabitants for several years.  Clean water and good water-borne sanitary facilities are also more readily accessible in these top countries than they are elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

The performance of these top ten sub-Saharan African countries across an array of fifty-seven critical variables of governance shows of what the best of the best of Africa are capable. Although the scores of the lower half of these nation-states might not vault them into the upper ranks of governance globally, the top four or five would surely qualify. Moreover, in sub-Saharan Africa taken together the best ten set a standard that others – especially the twenty or so countries in the middle ranks – can strive to emulate.  The new middle class in the sub-continent – especially in upper middle-ranking, relatively prosperous and relatively well-educated countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia – is aware that there are very well-governed places nearby.  The citizens of a hulking country like Nigeria, with its underwhelming governance attainments, know that English-speaking Ghana is nearby and producing better outcomes for its citizens than the Nigerian government for its people. In Francophone West Africa, thirteenth ranking Senegal has always seemed better governed than its neighbours. Now, after celebrating a free and fair election in 2012 and a simultaneous reiteration of its long participatory tradition, Francophone Africans can continue to look to Dakar, and not to neighboring conflict-prone Bamako (Mali), for inspiration and hope.

The special ingredient in each of these well-governed sub-Saharan African states has been visionary, responsible, leadership. Leadership has invigorated and ensured high quality governance and created a political culture (a value system) that has enabled strong political institutions to be implanted, to grow, and to flourish. That combination of committed leadership, political culture, and solid institutions has provided the foundations of and reinforced the strengthening of good governance (in some cases, democracy as well). Once secure, the habit of good governance with its strong rule of law expectations; its internal security; its prudent macroeconomic behavior and open trading regimes; and its emphasis on building infrastructure, providing educational opportunity, and caring for its people’s health needs has enabled each of the countries in the top cohort to attract foreign investors and donors, to boost GDPs per capita, and – for the first time – to build modern nation-states, not just states. “Democracy” would have told us too little about the accomplishments and prospects of such states.

Does size make a governance difference? It has probably been easier to construct nation-states from colonial remnants because smaller states (in area and population) are arguably easier to lead. Certainly Singapore shows what can be done in a contained, if very plural, environment. But the African raw material in several cases was not that promising. Before independence, Mauritius, with its Hindi-speaking majority and its melange of peoples of different complexions, languages, and religions, had experienced brutal race riots and great internal discord. The Seychelles had to disentangle itself from the pernicious influence of overseas investors with ties to the Mafia. Botswana was, literally, dirt poor at independence. So was Lesotho, dependent as it still is on exporting labor and water to South Africa. Along with Namibia, hardly any of the peoples of Botswana or Lesotho were educated, even at rudimentary levels. Cape Verde and Sao Tome evolved from long centuries of desultory and hard-fisted Portuguese rule, not the most nurturing of colonial environments. So small they were, but size was not necessarily an easily exploitable advantage.

Among the larger well-governed countries, Benin had experienced more military coups d’etat than any other African country in the early decades of its post-colonial existence, and had been well accustomed to military dictators before the 1990s.[11] Ghana lived through its own military era as well as years of idiosyncratic despotism. It had gone backwards economically more than any other of these high-ranking countries in the decades after its heady founding in the 1950s. Finally, South Africa had the easiest path to high governance scores: long-standing, if unequal, wealth; a strong educational inheritance; modern hospitals; a robust inherited infrastructure; a long history (however un-rainbow) as a nation rather than a state; and the iconic leadership inspiration of Nelson Mandela, its first independent president. But the attainment of South Africa’s high governance standing had also to overcome high crime scores (and low safety ratings), surprisingly high corruption levels, weak performance in the energy sector, and many questions concerning schooling places and health results.[12]

Bad Governance

The bottom worst of the worst in the sub-Saharan African governance listings are mostly obvious poor performers. They include locales such as Somalia, the Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — all deeply insecure, plagued by civil wars, very unsafe, and dangerous in so many respects to their citizens. None of those places can project power much beyond its capital, although the Sudan certainly sends fighters to strafe its peripherally-dwelling citizens and now and then tries to bomb them into submission. Somalia with its interminably-running internal conflict is a very special case but its inclusion in a governance index is really a misnomer; Somalia, or at least the southern part of what the African Union considers the Somali territory, has no real government and so, rightfully, should not be measured as a government; it cannot perform, so why measure its performance? That said, Somaliland, the northern part of the Somali geographical expression, runs very well. If it were a recognized independent nation it would probably rank somewhere in the middle of the governance tables. But its semi-autonomous neighbor to the immediate east – Puntland – and (southern) Somalia are lawless, endemically conflicted territories. And they both harbor  pirates.

The sub-Saharan African badly governed states in 2012 included its largest, check Nigeria, in slot number 43 (on a 52-state scale that also encompassed the five north African polities, but not the Sudan or South Sudan), followed by Equatorial, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, , Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe,  the Central African Republic,  Eritrea,,Chad, the Congo (K),  and Somalia, in that order. Had the Sudan and South Sudan been rated in 2012, as they had been in earlier years, both would  have found fit places in this bottom ranking group. Cote d’Ivoire was recovering from a decade-long civil war and a contested electoral result that demanded AU, UN, and French military intervention. As a result, its rule of law, incomes per head, infrastructure, safety, and educational and health systems had all been compromised.  Good governance had been wanting ever since President Laurent Gbagbo (ousted in 2011) had attempted to disenfranchise his country’s northerners in 2001 and had thus motivated a countervailing revolt.

Of the others, Chad is also insecure, but certainly less so than the Central African Republic (CAR), the Sudan, and the Congo (K). In 2012, Joseph Kony and his handful of Lord’s Resistance Army marauders were still causing mayhem in sections of the CAR and the adjacent northeast Congo (K) but the major disturbance in that part of Africa was by rebels from northern CAR. They  marched on Bangui in late 2012 and were still holding major towns in early 2013. Sudanese cattle raiders and elephant poachers were also active within CAR borders, and in Chad. The Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, CAR, Congo pentagon was as unstable and troubled in 2013 as it had been throughout much of this century. In those countries there was very little governance, and very little ability of the regimes running the capitals of each country to project theirs power very far outside of Bangui, Ndjamena, Juba, Kinshasa, and Khartoum. (“Democracy” was a non-issue.) Indeed, South Sudan probably belongs on this least well-governed list, as much because of its failure to perform as a new state across all dimensions as because of its fundamental external and internal insecurities. (The battles over cattle and water between the Dinka and the Murle continue in 2013, and there are other internal conflicts.)

Zimbabwe has no all-out internal war. Its borders are secure. Crime levels are not unusually high. But, despite its supposed government of national unity, there is an incessant medium-level conflict underway every day between military, police, and organized youth thug gangs all loyal to and paid by President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Intimidation of urban dwellers and villagers, and warnings by the ZANU-PF legions against potential MDC backers prior to an expected national election in 2013 are the names of the game. Lives are lost, and people are harmed, but without the numbers involved reaching civil war thresholds.

Eritrea has a hot war against next door Ethiopia that still simmers, but without more than very occasional casualties. Its biggest issue, as for almost all of the other states ranking in places 43 to 52 on the latest African governance list, is its total absence of individual freedom. Eritrea is one of the tightest dictatorships anywhere. No Eritrean enjoys freedom of expression or assembly. The media is rigidly controlled, as the broadcast media are in supposedly democratic Zimbabwe; every Eritrean is subject to tight surveillance within the country and, sometimes, abroad. Indeed, in so many ways, Eritrea in 2013 resembles the tight strictures of North Korea, with its thought police, collective punishment, torture, and the absence of   individual economic opportunity.[13]

Guinea-Bissau’s insecurity and weakness in terms of governance comes from its position as a leading narcotics transhipment point between Colombia and Europe, its penetration by foreign drug cartels, and the violence that has consumed Guinea-Bissau’s politics in the wake of its invasion by foreign and local wannabe drug lords. Politicians and prominent military actors are frequently assassinated, possibly for their political views and their political ambitions, but possibly also in order to maintain the dominance of external drug dealers. Guinea-Bissau, even afterits 2012 coup, is hardly either secure or safe, so its governance scores in that critical area are appropriately low.

A few of these other badly governed countries in western Africa may also be infiltrated by drug smuggling (as well as arms trafficking and the human trafficking of children and women), but every country among the bottom thirteen is wildly corrupt. All sub-Saharan African countries other than Botswana and Mauritius are corrupt, the bad ones much more so than the norm or the median. There is absolutely no transparency in Angola (ranked 40th in 2012), Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, or the rest – not even in Eritrea.  Nigeria is in 2013 attempting with some success to rein in its corrupt traditions after decades, even centuries, of high-rolling fraud and misappropriation, but none of the other states ranked below 43 are interested, much less able, to reduce the corrupt practices that pervade every aspect of their national life and influence every deal between powerful people and between the state and its citizens. Corruption is almost omnipresent in Africa.

The badly governed thirteen are where they are in the rankings for many reasons; certainly being heavily corrupt, lacking rules of law, lacking much in the way of consistent forms of participation, lacking even rudimentary infrastructural provisions, and mostly denying their inhabitants access to educational opportunity and health facilities are reasons sufficient to explain their low standings. Obviously, they are anti-democratic as well. The great majority of their inhabitants, and thus millions of hapless and abandoned Africans, are consequently denied the ability to advance socially and economically, or to begin to enjoy the kinds of rewarding lives that their contemporaries in Botswana, Mauritius, Benin, or Ghana have come to take for granted.

Poverty  rules all of these dismal places. They are poor because they are badly governed, too, not the other way round. Some of the states in this lowest category have immense resources, like Nigeria and the Congo (K). Some have newly discovered petroleum bonanzas, like Equatorial Guinea and Chad. Some, like Guinea  ( 42nd in 2012), have long squandered the mineral resources with which they were endowed. Angola’s rulers have kept their oil rents to themselves. Only the CAR, which has a few diamonds, and Guinea-Bissau, which has hardly anything other than cashews, can claim true destitution of opportunity – of having been dealt a deficient hand by fate. But in every case, even in Nigeria, quality of governance is the intervening variable. Positive leadership has been wanting and therefore good, responsible, governance has not often existed.

Needless to say, throughout this dismal universe of badly governed African states, schooling is deficient, where it exists at all. Literacy levels are low (Nigeria excepted), school persistence numbers are poor, teacher training is rudimentary, and expectations of educational advance are very constrained. There are very few university-educated personnel remaining in many of these states, not even in the once advanced Sudan. Medical clinics and hospitals are few, especially in the war zones, physicians and nurses are scarce, and supplies are often wanting. Even potable water is hard to locate, especially in the dry Sahel countries and, sometimes, in the humid reaches of a place like the Congo (K). Disease is rife and life expectancies are lower in these bottom thirteen states than elsewhere in the sub-continent. Maternal mortality rates are very high. None of these badly governed places, not even the oil wealthy places such as Angola and Equatorial Guinea, provide much in the way of social services. Instead, in those two places, but also in Chad (where there are new petroleum earnings), elites largely keep the wealth of their countries to themselves, and distribute little to the bulk of its citizens. Those are the rewards of bad governance.

Nigeria deserves its own analysis. Its size dwarfs even the Congo (K), and certainly all of the other much smaller polities. It harbors many civil conflicts – in the Niger Delta, in the north, in the Middle Belt between north and south, and in many cities and towns where different ethnic groups vie for control over resources, or merely over the right to settle. In 2013, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan was attempting to restore order, put down Boko Haram and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), extirpate or at least reduce the spread of corruption – embezzlement, peculation, nepotism – at both the venal and petty levels, start to provide efficient social services for its citizens, reconstruct a national infrastructure that has long been in disrepair, and begin to boost the per capita incomes of his countrymen. This tall order, decades of wild corruption, the backwardness of much of Nigeria’s social and physical infrastructure, and deficient electoral and participatory practices explains its low governance ranking. Having a vigorous free press and media, pockets of great entrepreneurial initiative, and abundant (but poorly distributed) wealth, cannot compensate in terms of its intrinsic governance standing for its many deficits. Nor can the stirrings of democratic practice say much.

There is much that all of these badly governed states must do to improve their scores. When they can begin to do so – when they can begin to creep up gradually toward the middle of the governance rankings – then, and only then, will their people’s prospects advance. One of sub-Saharan Africa’s key problems in the decades ahead is how to assist these badly governed, mostly authoritarian, places to learn how to govern themselves more adequately, and thus how to begin to let their downtrodden peoples progress along the road of life chances.  Outsiders may be able to assist, but primarily this is a task for Africa itself.

Middling Governance

            A number of active and promising sub-Saharan African states comprise the middle of the Governance Index charts.  They range from a number that are improving their governance numbers every year and crowding up against the top eleven downward to a set of countries that are in danger of joining the badly governed crew at the bottom of the list.

Just below the eleven top performers on the Index are a set of  reasonably well governed predominantly English-speaking states that, for one or two prominent reasons, have failed over the last six years to break upwards into the ranks of the best governed. They include: , Senegal, , Malawi, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Mozambique,   and Kenya.. Of Uganda, the International Crisis Group in 2012 bemoaned its “slow and continuing shift from constitutional-style government to patronage-based, personal rule.” This shift had been underway for many years, but the Crisis Group recognized with some sadness that Yoweri Museveni, the once-democratic president of Uganda, in 2012 was relying like his cruel predecessors on patronage and coercion to maintain control.[14]

Democratic and seemingly stable Mali faltered in 2012 when its junior military officers mutinied and overthrew the government, and the nomadic minority Tuareg, long discriminated against by the Bambara rulers of Mali, fostered an Islamist insurgency that quickly captured great swathes of the northern, Saharan, reaches of the country.

This tier of middle-ranking states illustrates the kinds of improving governance scores and, thus, improving governance attainments of which sub-Saharan Africa is capable. “Democracy”  tells us less. Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, and Rwanda, for example, have moved up several governance places since 2009 following strenuous actions by their leaderships, the dampening of corruption in Rwanda, political participation improvements in Tanzania and Zambia, economic growth and better management in Mozambique, and better health outcomes in Tanzania and Zambia.

It is important to ask, however, why the middle-rankers are not in the first tier. Why, for example, is Kenya so far back in the pack, behind impoverished Malawi, poor Tanzania, and autocratically-run Uganda? Why is tightly-controlled Rwanda, making great developmental strides thanks to determined presidential leadership, still languishing toward the rear of the second tier?

Kenya is a busy, populous, modern tourist destination and the industrial and transport hub of East Africa whereas Malawi is a sliver of a landlocked mass dependent almost exclusively on the sale of tobacco to China. But Malawi has a solid and reasonably independent court system in contrast to Kenya’s compromised one.  Kenya has experienced far more ethnic tension and violence than Malawi . Kenya’s elections in 2007 were rigged and Malawi’s in 2009 were not, leaving serious questions about the integrity of Kenya’s democracy and its respect for human rights. Hence, although Kenya’s GDP per capita rates are much higher than Malawi’s, and higher for that matter than those of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda, Kenya’s ratings on security (even before the invasion of Somalia) and safety, on rule of law and transparency (corruption is far higher in Kenya than is it among its neighbors), and for participation are lower than its peer group and competitors. Moreover, despite its greater wealth, Kenya’s prosperity is less equally distributed than a number of its second-tier competitors.Its arteries of commerce, per head, are less robust than in comparable countries. Further, despite its progress in educational and health matters, when compared to other second-tier countries, Kenya ranks poorly on a per capita basis. So appearances and anecdotal evidence turn out to be less impressive, when weighing governance, than results gathered and expressed quantitatively. Calibrating “democracy” in such a place would end up being much more anecdotal than precise.

There are still major improvements to be made in governance in sub-Saharan Africa. Including Nigeria’s 162 million (and growing), the Congo (K)’s 75 million, and Ethiopia’s 80 million, a significant proportion of sub-Saharan Africa’s 900 million people endure excruciatingly weak governance. Large swathes of the sub-continent – the peoples of the badly governed places – are served barely at all by their governments. Others, even those who reside in the Togos, Burundis, and Cameroons of the sub-continent are only a little better off. Think of how little chance a citizen of a country ranked from Sierra Leone (30th) downward has, for example, of receiving any kind of meaningful assistance from her own government. Educational opportunities and health chances are limited. Ignorance and disease are inescapable. Moreover, citizens in such countries can expect to be preyed upon by corrupted elites and functionaries. They lack voice and are often insecure and unsafe. The answer to their plight and to the many problems that plague much of sub-Saharan Africa is more and better governance (not democracy per se)– as governance is understood and explained in this chapter.

Governance Explains More than Democracy

As the bulk of this chapter has sought discuss at length, measurements of governance can separate good performers from bad performers in Africa and everywhere else. Measuring governance carefully and painstakingly can show whether regimes are delivering necessary and desirable governmentally-provided outcomes to their citizens. The concept of governance also enables an existing government, civil society, or donors to appreciate which parts of the overall system are working well and which poorly. Critical decisions can thus be made that can, in the best of circumstances, improve living conditions for inhabitants of the developing world.

Evaluating “ democracy” in the same circumstances or in country after country accomplishes less. Attempting to estimate whether one developing nation is less or more democratic than another – a very subjective exercise — tells us far less about what is happening to the people of that country than does dissecting that country’s governance attainments quantitatively.

“Democracy” is less useful than “governance” if we want to learn whether Afghanistan or Iraq is delivering essential political goods over time to its inhabitants. “Democracy” achievements tell us less about whether Iraqis, Afghans, or Kazakhs are living longer, becoming more literate, having their human rights respected, exercising their participatory instincts, or earning more than before. It tells us far less about “outcomes.”

“Governance” simply enables us to paint a fuller picture of any developing society. “Democracy” only informs us about a particular slice of that society.  More “governance” is easily contrasted with less governance. That contrast is harder to realize if we examine only “democracy” or democratic accomplishments within a given society. From a utilitarian point-of-view, or even from a variety of ideal perspectives, the use of governance as a measure provides much more information than the similar employment of any one of a number of measures of democracy. Indeed, governance trumps democracy.






[1] See Amy Gutman and Dennis F. Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy?  (Princeton, 2004).

[2] For the standard explanation, see Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy  (New Haven,  1998).

[3] Arthur A. Goldsmith, “Ballots, Bullets, and the Bottom Billion,” Journal of Democracy, XXIII (2012), 121.

[4] This chapter’s discussion of governance draws heavily on Rotberg, “Strengthening African Governance  : Ranking Countries Would Help, Washington Quarterly, XXIV (2004), 71-81; Rotberg, “Improving Governance in the World: Creating a Measuring and Ranking System,” in Rotberg and Deborah L.West, The Good Governance Problem: Doing Something About It (Cambridge, MA 2004), 3-30; Rotberg, “On Improving Nation-State Governance,” Daedalus,  CXXXVI  ( 2007),  151-155;  “The Meaning of Governance: Ranking Africa,” in Rotberg and Rachel M. Gisselquist, Strengthening African Governance: Index of African Governance, Results and Rankings 2009 (Cambridge, MA 2009), 7.

[5] This and succeeding paragraphs draw on Rotberg, “Good and Bad Governance,” in Rotberg, Governance and Leadership in Africa (Philadelphia, 2007), 21-24.

[6] For details, see the published or web versions of Rotberg and Rachel M. Gisselquist, Strengthening African Governance: Index of African Governance (2007, 2008, 2009).  The Index continued since 2010 and is now compiled by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, under his name.  But the original methodology is largely being followed and much of the data contained in recent issues of the Index can be compared against earlier iterations.

[7] One of the great unsung needs is the rejuvenation of sub-Saharan African national statistical offices. Such an effort would be worthy of the most far-seeing donors.

[9]  See Aart Kraay, Daniel Kaufmann and Massimo Mastruzzi,  The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues,,  24 Sept 2010


[10]  A North-South Institute ongoing research project seeks to compare an analyze all of these numerous indexes that pertain to or reflect the measurement of governance.

[11] See Victor T. Le Vine, “The Coups in Upper Volta, Dahomey, and the Central African Republic,” in Rotberg and Ali A Mazrui (eds.), Protest and Power in Black Africa (New York, 1970),  1035-1071


[12] The Index from 2007 through 2009, and the Ibrahim Index since 2009, has all the details.


[13] For details, see Dan Connell, “From Resistance to Governance: Eritrea’s Trouble with Transition,” Review of African Political Economy, XXXVIII (2011), 419-433.

[14]  International Crisis Group, “Uganda: No Resolution to Growing Tensions,” 5 April 2012,



2 thoughts on “Governance Trumps Democracy

  1. It is a shame that there are no comments. This article is very good and hits the nail on the head. Can’t imagine why there are no comments.

    Posted by Jeff Ferguson | February 2, 2013, 4:13 pm
  2. The distinction between democracy and governance strikes me as well worth thinking about and applying. My focus in this regard has been on Mongolia.

    The democracy discussion regarding Mongolia would be relatively straight-forward, Mongolian citizens definitely have voice. Over twenty years of elections, numerous peaceful changes of government, recognition of political rights in indices such as Freedom House’s Freedom in the World… Mongolia is the single member in the club of post-state socialist democracies in Asia. In my mind, Mongolia is therefore worth thinking about in the terms that Dr. Rotberg suggests.

    Let me provide snapshots on the five criteria that Dr. Rotberg focuses on and that the Index of African Governance includes.

    – Mongolia continues to remain an independent country with no real threats to its borders despite the fact that it is sandwiched between two somewhat overbearing neighbours, China and Russia.
    – domestically it is a fairly peaceful country with no insurgencies and other violent conflicts. In contrast to the post-state socialist states of Central Asia, there is very little political violence or organized crime in Mongolia

    Rule of law:
    This is a bit trickier. Reforms of the judicial system are certainly a work in progress both in terms of individual rights (pretrial detention is often mentioned as a sticking point), as well as dispute resolution for corporations that is perhaps the most visible aspect of rule of law to international observers.

    Democratic voice:
    Yes, see above.

    Educational opportunity:
    Yes, state-socialism has left a legacy of a decent primary and secondary system that seems to be improving though funding particularly in rural areas is an issue. Universities slowly making transition to teaching & research while the Academy of Sciences system is fading.

    “Enabling environment permissive of, and conducive to, economic growth and prosperity at national and personal levels”:
    This may be the crux of Dr. Rotberg’s argument as it would apply to Mongolia.
    There are some significant challenges to the enabling of such an environment, not all related to a lack of will to do so which primarily takes the form of corruption (a topic I have written about at
    In the Mongolian case, economic prosperity will be rooted in mineral resources. Some of these can and have been mined by domestic operations (Erdenet for copper, Tavan Tolgoi for coal, open pit operations at Oyu Tolgoi) while others require foreign expertise (underground at Oyu Tolgoi). All require foreign financing.
    In facing foreign investors (active or passive) Mongolian decision-makers are severely hampered by a lack of policy-analysis capacity (past experiences with similar projects, human resources, access to international best practices) that is exasperated by a certain amount of distrust of international advice rooted in the application of shock therapy in the 1990s.
    Specifically, Mongolian decision-makers are struggling with how a stake for the Mongolian people in foreign investors-led mining projects is best secured through direct ownership, taxation, royalties, etc. This struggle is complicated further by the sometimes outlandish expectations for economic growth that have been created by an accelerating mining boom. Just recently, I have made the case on the FT’s beyond brics blog ( is often misinterpreted simplistically as a form of resource nationalism.

    As Mongolian democracy seems well-established, a turn toward a closer examinations of governance aspects is certainly in order and Dr. Rotberg as well as the sources he lists offers some guidance in this.

    Posted by Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) | February 5, 2013, 1:34 pm

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