11 September 2012 

An interview with Mohammed Ibrahim was published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal. He established the Ibrahim Index which measures standards of governance in Africa.  It involves an evaluation of 86 indicators in each of the 54 African states. Ibrahim, originally from the Sudan, gained a PhD in Britain in the 1970s and after establishing cell phone networks in Africa, made about US$3.5 billion when his interests were taken over by a Kuwaiti company.

He also established an annual award for which all African heads of state are eligible. Candidates must be democratically elected, have served within their constitutional term limits, demonstrated “excellence” in office and peacefully transferred power within the past three years. When commenting about the prize being awarded on only three occasions since its 2007 launch—to former presidents of Mozambique, Botswana and Cape Verde – Ibrahim indicated that “….If there is no winner, it’s only right to say there is no winner. You have to be credible…”

Ibrahim’s underpinning aspiration is to encourage good government. He regards the lack of emphasis on accountability as a widespread problem in the aid business. Aid too often ends up supporting corrupt or failed leaders. “Sometimes I feel it’s an African hobby to refuse to take responsibility and always blame others for our problems….. We need brutal honesty if we’re serious about moving forward…”

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which his foundation publishes every year, provides that honesty. Last year, Mauritius topped the list with an overall score of 82 out of 100 possible points, ranking first in “sustainable economic opportunity” and “safety and rule of law.”  Somalia was the poorest scoring country with eight out of 100 overall and scoring nothing for “rule of law” and “education”.

Discussing previous winners, Ibrahim said that “…it doesn’t matter if you’re low in the index, what matters is where you’re coming from.” When comparing Mozambique and South Africa, he said that Chissano took office during Mozambique’s 16-year civil war and left behind peace and the beginnings of a market economy. Mbeki inherited one of the most secure and developed nations in Africa but let safety, rule of law and civil rights slide.

Ibrahim is disappointed with the current western philosophy. He believes that Western governments “… have relaxed into a cronyism of business loopholes and selective bailouts. …We now see a very strange phenomenon where we have capitalist institutions – companies – that have been allowed to privatise profits and socialise their losses. Is that capitalism?”