Improved Freedom scores suggest Africa achieving democracy – ACBR 2019

By James Hall

Analysis in brief: While Africa’s Politics scores are generally low, the African people themselves, along with human rights activists and political reformers, have worked to make Freedom the highest-scoring segment in the 2019 Africa Country Benchmark Report.

Of the five Politics quadrant segments surveyed in the 2019 edition of the Africa Country Benchmark Report (ACBR) – Democracy, Freedom, Governance, Justice and Stability – Freedom scores the highest. Several major governance, human rights and political indicators were tabulated and analysed in the ACBR 2019 to determine how Africa was performing politically on a national, regional and continental level. The concept of freedom is both the foundation for modern society – the state exists to support individuals’ freedom of thought, speech, religion, ability to earn a livelihood, engage in a lifestyle of their choice and to be safe and secure – and the end-product of a successful political system.

Overall, the ACBR 2019 found low scores continentally in the Politics quadrant, reflecting poor performances regionally and for many countries. Whereas international standards are applied to assess political developments – rightly so, because Africans desire the same democratic institutions enjoyed in the developed world – the assessments also reflect political works in progress. Political developments during the year under review showed a widespread trend towards better political institutions: more accountable and better-performing governments, more citizen participation, less corruption and more liberties. Africa’s political scene is hobbled by long-entrenched non-democratic ruling regimes. But these are being overthrown or challenged. Social media has shown Africans what good governance should be, with overseas states serving their people rather than the other way around. The internet has also proved to be an effective organisational tool to challenge autocracies. There seems no turning back for Africa’s peoples, and while today’s low Politics quadrant scores in many ways reflect decades-old problems in governance, the good governance trend is certain to lift scores in future ACBR surveys.

The segments comprising the Politics Quadrant of ACBR 2019.
The regional comparison of the Politics quadrant – including the areas of Democracy, Freedom, Governance, Justice and Stability in Northern, Eastern, Western, Central and Southern Africa.

Freedom: the goal increasingly sought by Africans

Throughout Africa, during the period under review, citizens have risen up against autocracies. A few citizen revolts have overturned regimes that have long dominated the political lives in some countries. This occurred in Algeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Zimbabwe during the past year. Sometimes, the vehicle of change has been national elections, enacted once autocrats like Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos or the DRC’s Joseph Kabila exhausted all other means to stay in power. Elsewhere, uncompromising autocrats were ousted by militaries at the behest of their citizens, such as Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

The ballot is more effective than the bullet to secure democracy. Militaries in Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe still control or heavily influence governance. However, in these three countries, determined citizens are pressing forwards with their insistence on civilian governance in countries that have historically never known this. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI, Africa’s last absolute monarch along with Eswatini’s King Mswati III, is under pressure to enact more political reforms. While the fact remains that dictators still hold power in several countries, only a few seem immune to the new pro-democracy trend that is sweeping Africa.

Southern Africa leads in political stability

The overall continental score for the Freedom segment was 47.98 points. This was achieved by averaging the five regional scores – Central, East, North, Southern and West Africa – which were themselves averages of the countries within those regions. Given that this is the highest scoring segment in the ACBR 2019’s Politics quadrant, the overall quality of governance and politics in Africa can be gauged as the score does not reach the half-way point of the 100-point scale. The other continental segment scores in the Politics quadrant are also poor: Justice scores 44.23 points; Stability earned 43.39; Governance tallied 42.36; and Democracy comes in last with 41.77 points. Only a review of the previous ACBR surveys’ Politics quadrant scores can quantify the improvements made to the political conditions in Africa.

Comparing regional scores in the Freedom segment, Southern Africa breaks the 50-point mark, scoring 54.89 points. The higher score reflects a region at peace, despite internal political ailments in various countries. Aside from poorly performing Zimbabwe, no Southern African country is run as an outright autocracy. West Africa is the next-best performing country in this segment, achieving 53.06 points. With the termination of the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship in The Gambia, West Africa only has one governing autocracy left, in Cameroon. Despite the toppling of autocrats during the Arab Spring revolt in 2011, erosion of democracy in Egypt, the devolvement of Libya into civil war and the persistence of the Moroccan monarchy have resulted in a smaller Freedom score for North Africa of 44.13. Central Africa continues to be a stronghold for bad governance and dictatorship, scoring 41.67. That East Africa is the lowest scorer in the Freedom segment, with a total of 39.54 points, reflects Eritrea’s dictatorship, South Sudan’s instability and the turmoil in Sudan. East Africa also has other strained countries: Somalia continues to struggle politically; Kenya’s and Uganda’s governments are hobbled by corruption; and Tanzania’s administration has grown more autocratic.

However, an overall reading of Africa’s political map shows a push for democracy and political reform that has a solid chance of succeeding in countries that have as of yet resisted changes to their autocracies. However, all of Africa’s non-democratic governments are being challenged in one form or another, and only the most repressive seem immune to immediate change … for now. Foreign international human rights organisations and local non-governmental organisations are supporting but not driving the good governance trend in Africa. The African people themselves are at the helm of political reform.

Find out more about ACBR here: https://www.inonafrica.com/africa-country-benchmark-report-acbr/

Key points

  • Freedom is the highest-scoring segment in the Politics quadrant of the ACBR 2019.
  • Made aware of good governance possibilities through social media, Africans desire and strive for people-driven democratic governments for themselves.
  • Several long-standing dictatorships were retired during the past year as the pro-democracy trend continued, giving hope that low ACBR Politics scores will rise in future surveys.