Time to tally up Africa’s progress in governance

Events in Zimbabwe point to a continental shift toward democracy, driven by a mass of young people demanding accountability.

AP Photo
Zimbabweans pray for the country at a Christian peace and prayer rally in Harare, Zimbabwe Nov. 20.

One charge thrown at President Robert Mugabe as he faces impeachment in Zimbabwe is that “he can hear the voices of the people, but is refusing to listen.” In Africa’s long journey toward democracy, one sign of success is when a ruler’s own party demands such accountability. Zimbabwe’s progress on that point is a mark of hope for the continent.

Overall, Africa is doing better on the quality of its governance, according to a Nov. 20 report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. In the past 10 years, 40 of Africa’s 54 countries have improved on indexes that track government effectiveness and political participation. Last year, Africa achieved its highest score in 11 years of tracking. With a peaceful and constitutional change of power, Zimbabwe could add to this record.

Other Africa-watchers find steady if sometimes erratic progress despite the fact that about 40 percent of Africa’s population is under 15 years old and lives in extreme poverty.

In a new book, “Making Africa Work: A Handbook,” a group of scholars writes: “Many African leaders have responded to the overwhelming wishes of their citizens by changing from autocratic regimes – the preferred system of government from the 1960s to the 1980s – to electoral democracy.”

The Institute for Security Studies, a South African think tank, finds popular support for democracy is likely to remain strong. It also notes that Africa is becoming more democratic despite the generally low levels of per capita income.

In October, the World Bank reported that sub-Saharan Africa had implemented 83 reforms in the past year to create jobs and attract investment, a record for a second consecutive year. “In 2003, it took 61 days on average to start a business in the region, compared to 22.5 days today,” the bank stated.

In July, the continent-wide African Union marked the first African Anti-Corruption Day, which at least helps recognize one major drag on economic growth and governance. Africa has also shown progress on many indexes of well-being, such as infant mortality. Yet even though it has half the world’s arable land, it remains dependent on food imports.

The political events in Zimbabwe, while historic for that country, simply reflect a wider shift in Africa. The continent has overwhelming problems but progress already made on governance helps make way for further progress.

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