My Take On the Ibrahim Index of African Governance

Freetown — People everywhere desire to live in safety and have recourse to the law when their rights are violated or they are victims of crime. This is one of the basic responsibilities of government and so is especially vital when evaluating the state of governance.

With the launch of the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, we are reminded again of the strong link between governance, safety and the rule of law. With a focus on the experience of individuals, The Index examines how well Governments maintains the rule of law; ensures that a system of checks and balances exists and that citizens adhere to it.

When measuring governance we find that the level of safety within a society is intrinsically linked to the rule of law.

Safety as a whole includes personal safety, property safety, safety from human trafficking, safety from domestic violence, safety from becoming refugees or internally displaced, safety from midnight calls and disappearances, safety from arbitrary arrests and detention, safety from compromised justice, safety from social unrest, safety from all sorts of political conflicts and safety from any kind of discrimination among other things.

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And safety has to be considered in its most holistic sense, not only the presence of safety but also the availability of an entrenched system that ensures it. It is not a strong society that is low in crime but has streets filled with military police. That does not represent the personal safety that good governance demands.

Effective implementation of the rule of law requires a firmly imbedded judicial system that is just, effective and accessible to all. The system should be administered by competent and independent judges whose work is unconstrained by political influences and corruption.

Corruption must be prevented and eliminated. The legal system is too easily subverted if its enforcers are not accountable to those they serve. Decisions should be made on the merit of the arguments and not the highest bidder.

Too often in Africa, we find high levels of personal safety but the rule of law is not respected and citizens have little recourse to justice. As we continue to build strong societies, it is up to all of us to press our governments to create open and transparent judicial systems. Only then will we be truly safe.

This responsibility for providing safety and the rule of law makes up just one of the four pillars of good governance. The Ibrahim Index looks broadly at what is being provided to citizens across all of society and focuses its efforts on measuring outcomes that impact on people’s lives. In this way we are able to shine a clear light on governments across the continent and so provide the information for citizens to demand what is rightfully due to them.

The Index shows us that we still have some way to go in ensuring that our continent’s governments are fulfilling their responsibilities to their citizens. Particularly in the area of Safety and Rule of Law we find a troubling lack of progress. And where we do find safety, it is too often divorced from legal legitimacy. This is unsustainable and will require efforts from civil society and citizens, as well as governments themselves.

However The Index itself is an important step in the right direction. Increasing accountability and transparency by providing African civil society with a tool that supports the assessment of our leaders will ultimately allow us to demand more from them.

By taking ownership for the debate around governance, Africans are taking a huge step forward in ensuring our countries continue on the path towards sustainable development. We know we can’t rely on anyone else to boost our economies or strengthen our societies; we must do that work ourselves. This latest Ibrahim Index is an important milestone in this journey.

Salim Ahmed Salim is Former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity and a Board Member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation