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Putting Good Governance into Practice I

Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Progress report
Putting good governance into practice I:
the Ibrahim Index of African Governance
Conor Farrington
Department of Geography, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge, CB2 3EN, UK.
I Good and bad governance
Good governance is…the single most
important factor in eradicating poverty and
promoting development. (Kofi Annan, 1998;
cited in Rotberg and West, 2004: 11)
In recent years, academics and political practitioners alike have become more aware of
the importance of governance in the context
of poor nation development (Rotberg, 2004;
Collier, 2007). While definitions of governance vary in scope and content, most entail
that the term ‘governance’ encompasses both
citizen participation in government and the
delivery of key goods and services by governments. The World Bank, for instance, defines
governance as the ‘traditions and institutions
by which authority in a country is exercised
for the common good’, while the European
Commission understands governance as ‘the
state’s ability to serve [its] citizens’ (UNDP,
2004: 8).1
On this general basis, ‘bad’ governance
came to be defined in the 1980s (by the World
Bank and related institutions) as both unrepresentative government and inefficient
non-market economic systems. Poor countries
© 2009 SAGE Publications
were castigated for ‘personalisation of power,
endemic corruption, and un-elected and unaccountable governments’ (Bøås, 1998; cited
in Weiss, 2000: 801). ‘Good’ governance was
then defined as Western-style democratic
government and neo-liberal, free-market
economics, coupled to a ‘rolling back’ of
the (welfare) state (Power, 2003). Recent
debates have moved beyond this definition to
emphasise democracy’s need for supportive
institutions and processes such as impartial
judiciaries, transparent public agencies and
meaningful citizen participation (Weiss, 2000).
In economic terms, development scholars have
long recognised that the adoption of neo-liberal
reforms in poor countries has constrained welfare
spending, imperilled livelihoods and thrown
marginal sectors into destitution (Cole, 2005).
Accordingly, contemporary good governance
debates largely reject the Washington Consensus notion of a minimalist, non-welfare
state in favour of an approach that strikes a
more sustainable (and humane) balance between the private and public sectors (Weiss,
2000). Good governance, that is, has ‘moved
away from a visceral dismantling of the state…
[It] is less about jettisoning state institutions
Putting good governance into practice I
than improving and reforming the functioning
of [such] institutions’ (Weiss, 2000: 803).
Good governance has become a more demanding concept in the sense that more conditions
must be met – more institutions and processes
must be in place – before the label of ‘good
governance’ can be applied.
These debates have served to highlight
further the plight of those who suffer from
‘bad’ governance: if many poor countries
already performed badly in terms of the
minimal (neo-liberal) understanding of good
governance, their quality of governance is likely
to appear yet more troubling in light of the
more demanding good governance stipulations
outlined above. Accordingly, the ‘timely, critical and worthy endeavour’ (Rotberg and
West, 2004: 11) of improving developing
world governance assumes ever greater
urgency (and difficulty) as good governance
is reconceptualised in more stringent and
demanding terms.
On some accounts, the crucial task of
improving poor nation governance can be
facilitated by the use of indices that quantify
the quality of governance (UNDP, 2004;
Rotberg, 2004). This progress report – the
first of three reports on governance indices –
introduces the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, one of the most recent (and most
ambitious) efforts to put the concept of good
governance to work in this way. While this essay
explicates the conceptual and methodological
architecture of the Index in a non-critical
manner, the second report will foreground the
issue of citizen participation in general (and
electoral participation in particular) in order
to evaluate both the underlying philosophy
and the methodological design of the Index.
On the basis of this discussion, a number of
extensions to the Index will be suggested to
allow for the evaluation of electoral processes
at sub-national (for example, municipal or provincial) levels. The third and final report
will argue that significant forms of citizen
participation increasingly take place in ‘new
political spaces’ – local-level spaces for citizen
engagement distinct from both electoral democracy and non-state social mobilisation –
before proposing additional measures to allow
for the evaluation of these new modes of citizen
involvement. The various posited extensions to
the Index are designed to allow for more precise,
fine-grained analyses of governance quality
both between and within individual countries,
thus avoiding the perennial indexical pitfall of
treating unlike cases alike.
II Measuring governance:
the role of indices
For Harvard political scientist Robert Rotberg,
independent, reliable and comprehensive indices that rank individual countries according
to the quality of their governance can serve a
number of indispensable purposes in the context of efforts to improve poor nation governance. Firstly, rankings of government
performance could meet the political scientific
goal of establishing which countries are well
or poorly governed, especially if such indices
could be brought to focus on government
performance in terms of ‘outputs’ rather
than ‘inputs’ (Rotberg, 2004; Rotberg and
West, 2004).2 (Moreover, indices that provide
disaggregated data – such as the Ibrahim
Index; see below – would allow political scientists to test hypotheses concerning the
relationships between different aspects of
governance. Such investigations could shed
much light on contested issues such as the
relationship(s) between citizen participation
and governmental service delivery.)
Secondly, such rankings could help to direct
policy reform by highlighting nation-states
(and, again with disaggregated data only, governance areas within nation-states) in which
the most urgent improvements are needed. As
Rotberg and West remark, ‘[t]he experience of
existing ranking systems for nation-states, or
of credit rating systems for countries, indicates
that such a carefully detailed report card
system would indeed concentrate the minds of
governments and their leaders, and lead at least
to some of the desired ameliorations’ (2004: 1).
Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Conor Farrington 251
Such information, moreover, would be useful
not only to governments wishing to put their
house in order, but also to civil society leaders
and international donors.
And thirdly, reliable rankings of government
performance could help citizens themselves to
bring their governments to account by providing
independent and internationally respected
‘score cards’ of governance performance that
can be accessed and utilised by ordinary people
as well as political scientists. As a recent report
states, ‘[t]he ability to demand and exercise
accountability implies power’ (McGee et al.,
2003: 18); consequently, governance indices,
interpreted as instances of extra-governmental
accountability, could make a real difference to
citizen empowerment. Overall, Rotberg concludes that independent, reliable rankings of
governance performance could ‘compel countries to recognise that governance counts,
that good governance is measurable and
bad governments can no longer hide, and,
helped by an independently produced score
card, provide both the carrot and the stick for
positive change’ (2004: 72).
However, on Rotberg’s account, all existing
indices of international governance – such as
those of the World Bank, the United Nations
Development Programme, Freedom House
and Transparency International – suffer to
varying extents from three serious weaknesses
that largely preclude them from serving these
purposes. First, Rotberg suggests that current
indices base their conclusions largely on perceptual data – such as citizens’, experts’ and
politicians’ perceptions of governance – rather
than other, perhaps more objective, kinds
of data. However, since perceptual data is
often unreliable, he suggests that governance
indices would do better to use ‘objective’
data: ‘[g]overnance is something capable of
being measured quantitatively – otherwise it
doesn’t have any meaning’ (Harvard University
Gazette, 2007: 14).
Second, many existing indices tend to
focus on specific elements (or combination of
elements) of governance – such as peace and
security, corruption, political participation,
human rights and sustainable development –
rather than governance in general (Rotberg
and Gisselquist, 2008b).3 Some indices, such
as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance
Indicators project, do address governance
in a more broad-based fashion. However –
and this is the third weakness that Rotberg
identifies with existing indices – these more
broad-based indices, while allowing in most
cases for cross-national comparisons of various
kinds, largely omit to rank countries according
to their overall governance performance. They
fail, that is, to provide ‘clear, simple data and
country rankings…that anyone can use to
understand how well their government … is
doing relative to others in a given year’ (Rotberg
and Gisselquist, 2008b: 29). Consequently,
non-ranking indices might unnecessarily
hamper the ability of citizens to use indexical
data and results as levers or tools to hold their
governments to account. Thus, according to
Rotberg, currently available indices of governance are inadequate in terms of their data
sources, their restricted understanding of governance and their failure to rank countries by
III The Ibrahim Index of African
In an attempt to remedy these deficiencies,
Rotberg and other political scientists at
Harvard University have recently developed
the Ibrahim Index of African Governance
(Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b). The Index,
which is sponsored by the Mo Ibrahim
Foundation,4 aims to fill the gaps left by existing governance indices by providing a comprehensive, objective and quantifiable method
of measuring governance quality in subSaharan Africa. The Index focuses on this
region of the developing world because the
Mo Ibrahim Foundation was specifically
founded to support the attainment of good governance in Africa. However, this geographical
restriction does not entail that the Index is
Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Putting good governance into practice I
inapplicable elsewhere, as should be evident
The Index is ‘comprehensive’ in three
important senses. Firstly, as the first attempt
explicitly to rank all forty-eight sub-Saharan
countries5 according to governance quality,
the Index is (regionally) geographically
comprehensive.6 Secondly, the Index is comprehensive because it seeks to measure
governance ‘broadly defined’ as the delivery by
the state of several kinds of core political goods
(including citizen participation) rather than
(as with other indices) focusing on particular
aspects of governance such as electoral freedom, living standards and so forth. The Ibrahim
Index evaluates governance on the basis of
five Basic Categories (BCs) of these core political goods:
1. Safety and security7
2. Rule of Law, transparency and
3. Participation and human rights9
4. Sustainable economic opportunity10
5. Human development11
These five Basic Categories (BCs) diversify
into fourteen Sub-Categories (SCs) and fiftyseven Sub-Sub-Categories (SSCs), leading
to an ‘enormously complex’ Index that is
‘enormously rich in terms of data’ (Harvard
University Gazette, 2007: 13). In each SC,
SSC indicators of various kinds are used to
analyse and evaluate a wide variety of data.
These indicators are then aggregated to
produce an overall score for each country in
terms of the delivery of core political goods –
and, therefore, governance performance – in
states in sub-Saharan Africa. These scores
are then used to rank all forty-eight countries
in that region.
Since some SSCs use continuous scales
(for example, 0–100) while others use threshold
(grouping) measurements (for example, each
case is awarded one of five possible values),
the process of producing a single composite score for each country requires data
normalisation. This is carried out on a yearto-year ‘improvement comparisons’ re-scaling
method, such that the minimum value for each
SSC across all years of Index application – the
Index is currently applied retrospectively to
data from 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006 – is
assigned a score of ‘0’ while the maximum
value across all years receives a score of ‘100’.
(Thus, the data themselves determine the
maximum and minimum values for each SSC,
serving to avoid skewing measurements for
SSCs – such as literacy measurement SSCs – in
which data tend to occupy a smaller range).
For each SSC in each country in each year, the
score is then calculated as follows:
xct − MIN( X )
SSCCT = 100 × ⎜
⎝ MAX( X ) − MIN( X ) ⎠
where xct is the raw value for that SSC for
country c in year t and X describes all raw
values across all countries for that SSC
across all available data sets (Rotberg and
Gisselquist, 2008b: 22). (Since high values
indicate good performance in some SSCs
and bad performance in others, this sum is
subtracted from 100 where appropriate, to
ensure that the best performers always receive
the highest values and vice versa). The scores
for each SSC for each year are then used to
calculate in turn an average score for each SC
(the sum of SSC scores divided by number of
SSCs), an average score for each BC (the sum
of SC scores divided by number of SCs), and
an average score for each country (the sum
of BC scores divided by number of BCs). The
five BCs are equally weighted in this process,12
as are all the SSCs and all but two of the SCs
(the SCs national security and public safety,
which comprise the safety and security BC13).
A third sense in which the Index is claimed
to be ‘comprehensive’ is its authors’ claim of
universality for their understanding of good
governance, stating variously that ‘All citizens
of all countries desire to be governed well’
and that ‘Good [governance] means the supply
Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Conor Farrington 253
of …core political goods, whatever the culture
and whatever else the government might
undertake’ (Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b:
7; 28). In a partial recognition of institutional,
political and socio-cultural diversity, the Index
authors note that ‘the objective standards of
good governance may be reached in different
ways in different countries,’ and that ‘there is
no cookie cutter template for good government
beyond performance’ (Rotberg and Gisselquist,
2008b: 29). However, they assert that good
governance standards do not vary across
cultures: ‘What matters is that some basic
political goods are provided’ (Rotberg and
Gisselquist, 2008b: 29).
This theoretical universalism supports an
analytical universalism, such that the Index’s
analytical schema (according to the Index authors) is equally applicable in any location
whatsoever: ‘the Index can be used anywhere – in Boston, Cambridge, New Jersey,
any place in the world’ (Harvard University
Gazette, 2007: 13–14). That is, the Index is not
adapted in any specific way to social, cultural,
political or economic specificities found only in
sub-Saharan Africa.
Good governance, moreover, is not only
understood as consistent across cultures; it
is also understood as susceptible to objective
and repeatable quantitative measurement.
With regard to objectivity, principal Index
author Rotberg states that ‘[g]overnance is
not some aesthetic, or some anecdotal or
impressionistic, view, as some seem to think…
It’s not a ‘style.’ Governance is something
capable of being measured quantitatively –
otherwise it doesn’t have any meaning’
(Harvard University Gazette, 2007: 14).
In this context, Rotberg and Gisselquist
(2008b: 8) emphasise the uniqueness of the
Ibrahim Index in terms of its use of objective
data (‘hard numbers’) wherever possible, and
its use of ‘objectively measured’ data where
‘hard numbers’ are not available. 14 With
regard to repeatability, Rotberg and Gisselquist
claim that the measurement of the delivery
of core political goods, if done correctly,
can be ‘verified and reproduced by others’
(Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b: 28). This
feature of the Index purportedly supports
the contention of the Index’s authors that the
Index is universally applicable.
In addition to these claims of comprehensiveness, objectivity and repeatability, the
Index also aims for comprehensibility and
transparency. In order for the Index to enable
citizens to hold their government to account,
the Index (as mentioned above) would have
to provide ‘clear, simple data and country
rankings…that anyone can use to understand
how well their government or another is doing
relative to others in a given year’ (Rotberg and
Gisselquist, 2008b: 29). Accordingly, the
authors took care to ‘emphasise relative
simplicity as compared to other methods’ in
order to augment ‘the ease with which they
could be understood by non-statisticians’
(Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b: 21). In terms
of transparency, the Index authors state that
they have sought to be ‘as transparent as
possible’ (Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b: 29).
Consequently, the Index web pages contain
a wealth of information concerning data collection and statistical methods used in addition
to downloadable files containing relevant
data sets.
To conclude, the Ibrahim Index purports
to embody a conceptually and geographically
comprehensive, objective, quantifiable, repeatable and transparent survey of sub-Saharan
African governance performance in the form
of comprehensible and accessible rankings.
In the words of Mo Ibrahim (founder of the
Mo Ibrahim Foundation), the Index ‘[shines]
a light on governance in Africa, and…[makes]
a unique contribution to improving the quality
of governance. The Ibrahim Index is a tool to
hold governments to account and frame the
debate about how we are governed’ (Rotberg
and Gisselquist, 2008a). The next two reports
in this series of three notes on governance
indices will place these ambitious and farreaching claims under the microscope in order
to suggest various extensions to the Index.
Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Putting good governance into practice I
1. It should be noted that many definitions of governance
also make reference to the increasingly significant
roles of civil society and private sector organisations
in terms of service delivery and, thus, governance.
The preface to a recent book states, correctly, that
‘governments, private enterprise, and civil society
organisations…have come to be seen as institutions of
governance’ (Rizvi and Bertucci, 2007: ix). However,
as this paper focuses entirely on the role of (national
and sub-national) governments, the governance roles
of non-governmental, civil society and private sector
organisations are bracketed.
2. The rationale for focusing on outputs – or outcomes –
rather than inputs arises from the fact that inputs
may or may not result in appropriate performance;
especially (but not exclusively) in the developing
world, good intentions and financial promises do
not always lead to concrete benefits for citizens. A
focus on governance outcomes brackets the issue of
promises and intentions and foregrounds the issue of
government performance with regard to concrete
benefits for citizens (Rotberg, 2004).
3. It should perhaps be noted here that the lack of comprehensiveness that Rotberg criticizes in other indices
may reflect an understandable desire for theoretical
and analytical parsimony (see, for example, Munck
and Verkuilen, 2002).
4. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is a not-for-profit nongovernmental organisation that aims to improve
African governance (Rotberg and Gisselquist,
5. The forty-eight countries that make up the region of
sub-Saharan Africa are: Angola, Benin, Botswana,
Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde,
Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo,
Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire,
Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon,
Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya,
Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali,
Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger,
Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal,
Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa,
Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia
and Zimbabwe.
6. The Index authors note that other surveys (such as
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions
Index, the UNDP’s Human Development Report,
and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World) have
surveyed all forty-eight sub-Saharan countries, but
that they have done so without the broad-based
concept of governance promoted by the Ibrahim Index
(Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b).
7. This BC incorporates the Sub-Categories (SCs) of
National Security (including measures of numbers and
intensity of armed conflicts, government-sponsored
civilian deaths, numbers of refugees, asylum seekers
and internally displaced persons, and access to small
arms) and Public Safety (incorporating measures of
violent crime levels; Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b:
This BC incorporates the SCs of Ratification of
Critical Legal Norms (including measures of ratification of international human rights conventions,
the presence of international sanctions for human
rights violations, and laws on contracts and property
rights), Existence of Independent and Effective
Judicial Systems (including measures of judicial
independence, courts efficiency and national contract enforcement institutions efficiency), and Corruption (incorporating perceptual measures of public
sector corruption; Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b:
This BC incorporates the SCs of Participation in
Elections (including measures of electoral freedom
and fairness) and Respect for Civil and Political Rights
(including measures of respect for physical and civil
rights, number of journalists killed annually, press
freedom, and gender discrimination; Rotberg and
Gisselquist, 2008b: 105–40).
This BC incorporates the SCs of Wealth Creation
(measured by GDP per capita and economic growth),
Macroeconomic Stability and Financial Integrity
(measured by annual inflation rates, government
budget deficits and surpluses as percentage of GDP,
reliability of financial institutions, and ‘the overall
business environment’), ‘The Arteries of Commerce’
(including measures of road network density, availability of electricity, number of mobile telephone
subscribers, and numbers of computer and internet
users), and Environmental Sensitivity (measured by
the Environmental Performance Index; Rotberg and
Gisselquist, 2008b: 141–86).
This BC incorporates the SCs of Poverty (including
measures of Percentage nationals living on less than
$1 per day, Percentage nationals living below national
poverty line, and income inequality), Health and
Sanitation (including measures of life expectancy at
birth, infant mortality, maternal mortality, undernourishment, immunization levels, HIV and TB
levels, access to qualified healthcare professionals,
and access to potable water), and Educational
Opportunity Levels (including measures of adult
literacy (both generally and among women), primary
school completion date (both generally and among
girls), pupil/teacher ratio, progression from primary
to secondary schools, and the ratio of female to male
students in primary and secondary schools; Rotberg
and Gisselquist, 2008b: 187–268).
Various statistical experiments using different weightings of the five basic categories (as opposed to the
equal weighting used in the published Index) indicated
Progress in Development Studies 9, 3 (2009) pp. 249–55
Conor Farrington 255
the ‘strong’ result that best and worst performers
were similar across all weighting methods (see
Rotberg and Gisselquist, 2008b: 22–25).
13. The rationale behind this weighting is that insufficient
data were available for the Public Safety SC, and that
it would be more accurate to weight National Security
(where data were ‘comparatively robust’) twice
as much as Public Safety (Rotberg and Gisselquist,
2008b: 24).
14. Rotberg and Gisselquist defined ‘objectively measured’
data as ‘systematically derived scores that could be
replicated by other researchers following the same
approach’ (2008b: 8).
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