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Economic growth in Africa, but democracy stumbles

Annual report on governance ranks Mauritius first of 53 African countries.

Africa economy democracy
A gold miner smiles as he climbs down into a mine shaft in Manica province, near the Zimbabwe border, Sept. 18, 2010. Zimbabwe was near the bottom on a recent list of the best-governed countries in Africa, scoring just 8 out of 100. Mauritius again topped the list, with a score of 82 out of 100. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — While most African economies are improving, the continent's democracies are not.

In addition to scoring healthy economic growth, averaging 5 percent in 2010, African citizens are generally healthier than they were five years ago.

But these gains are at risk because of a slide in the quality of governance across Africa, particularly in the areas of security and rule of law, warned the 2010 Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

The annual index, which scores countries on a scale of 0 to 100, is published by the foundation of Sudan-born British telecommunications billionaire Mo Ibrahim. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation also awards an annual African leadership prize, worth $5 million, that has not been given the last two years because of a lack of a suitable candidate.

Mauritius again tops the list as the best-governed of Africa’s 53 countries, with a score of 82 out of 100. Seychelles, Botswana, Cape Verde and South Africa also remain in the top five of best governed countries. Rounding out the top 10 are Namibia, Ghana, Tunisia, Lesotho and Egypt.

At the bottom are Eritrea, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Somalia, which scored just 8 of 100.

The annual index takes into account the areas of safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development. But it warned that the “patchiness” and “paucity of data” on Africa remains a serious concern and a challenge for researchers in compiling the index.

More than 40 of Africa’s 53 countries made improvements in the areas of human and economic development, but there are notable declines in equal rights, human safety and rule of law, described as a “democratic recession” for the continent.

“We must ensure that the political side of governance in Africa is not neglected,” Salim Ahmed Salim, an Ibrahim foundation board member, said in a statement. “We have seen from evidence and experience across the world that discrepancies between political governance and economic management are unsustainable in the longterm.”

Overall governance quality has changed little from previous years, with the index again reporting a continental average score of 49. “However, this average masks large variation in performance across countries,” the report's authors caution.