The Secretary-General’s Agenda: Sustainable Development In Africa Requires Good Governance

The significance of the selection of Africa for the first official overseas visit of Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General of the United Nations cannot be overstated. Promoting stability and development in the region must continue to be at the heart of the Organization's work.

Africa is the continent of generalizations. No other place in the world tends to be reported with such sweeping coverage than the region's 53 countries, which are as varied as befits the largest and second most populous continent on earth. What is new is the tone of generalizations. Stories of strong economic growth and rising prosperity are vying for space with the traditional clutch of stories about conflict, famine and poverty. Why? Because Africa's current economic growth commands our attention.

African economies are recording unprecedented levels of growth; since 2000 over 20 have grown by more than 5 per cent per year. During this period, African stock markets routinely outperformed other regional markets. In 2005, according to research by Databank Ghana, investment in the region's stock markets would have generated a 56-per cent return in United States dollar terms. Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) revealed that, in the same year, Africa received record foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows of $31 billion, a 78-per cent increase on 2004. This groundswell of positive economic news marks a watershed in Africa's history and will be crucial in tackling the deep-rooted "Afro-pessimism" which has done so much to constrain the continent's development.

Political reform is also providing good news from Africa. In the past four years, the region has been home to over 50 elections. Democratic government is now being pursued by the majority of African countries. These developments mark what is, perhaps, an even more important turning point for the region, for improved governance is crucial in ensuring that economic growth can be sustained and can make a significant contribution to alleviating poverty in Africa.

It is often asked why, even though Africa is so rich, Africans themselves are so poor? The answer lies with governance.

  • Without good governance, the State's resources cannot be effectively administered to provide education and health-care services, of which acute shortages exist in much of the continent. Potential gains from increased aid and debt relief cannot be as effective as they could be.
  • Without good governance, laws cannot be justly applied and security upheld. Africa faces high risks of internal insecurity, which can quickly develop into humanitarian crises in the absence of security and the rule of law.
  • Without good governance, people cannot be fairly represented, and democracy cannot be allowed to flourish. Civil society cannot fulfil its potential to contribute to development in the absence of sound governance.
  • Without good governance, businesses cannot operate. The private sector is an engine of growth -- generating employment, prosperity and tax revenue -- but only if it is able to thrive.
  • Without good governance, international investors will be deterred. Africa is experiencing record flows of FDI, but they are still a small fraction of the global total and must be increased if the continent is to have a chance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Better governance is also fundamental to improving further Africa's global standing. The continent must be a full partner in shaping policies when issues of global security and economic growth are so intimately linked to its own stability and development.

No one contests the importance of good governance. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "Good governance is the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development." Or, as World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said, "What people need is a State that functions effectively".

What if governance could be measured and benchmarked? This is the challenge that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a new initiative launched in October 2006, has set itself. The Foundation believes that governance can be measured and there is value in doing so. This belief is based on studies conducted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in the United States, and takes account of the work of the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and many other organizations working in this field.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation aims to focus attention on governance in Africa, in order to provide a debating point for the fast-growing media in the region, a reference point for civil society and an item high on the agenda for multilaterals and foreign donors. This will be achieved through the compilation and publication each year of the new Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which will rank countries of sub-Saharan Africa according to objectively measurable criteria.

A new generation of African leaders have stated their commitment to fight corruption and expose their Governments to greater scrutiny, most notably through the African Peer Review Mechanism of NEPAD. The Foundation wants to recognize and support these visionary leaders, who have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver lasting change for their people. To this end, it has established the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which will honour the best of them and hopefully set an example that the rest of the world can emulate. The prize, worth $5 million over ten years, is substantial -- but so is the challenge.

Africa needs to tell its success stories and project its positive image, not least because the appetite for bad news from the continent is ever present. In my professional life, I was involved in establishing mobile telephone networks in the region, where just over a decade ago there were hardly any. Today, there are over 150 million and the continent is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. Africa has embraced the information and communications technology revolution and is leapfrogging ahead, achieving technological and developmental gains that few could have predicted even some years ago. For me, this speaks volumes about the potential of the continent. Improved governance is absolutely fundamental to unlocking that potential and ensuring that this unprecedented opportunity to deliver lasting change for its people is not missed. If Africa can leapfrog ahead with technology, then why not with governance?

We all have an interest in helping to secure better governance in Africa. It is the most effective means of preventing failed States and for building democracy. Its development is the only way to harness the planet's most resource-rich continent and create a truly integrated global economy. And, most importantly, it is the only way to lift 300 million of the world's people out of poverty.