Contention Over Rankings of African Nations

Posted in Africa | 06-Oct-09 | Author: Celia W. Dugger| Source: New York Times

JOHANNESBURG - Two independent ratings of Africa's best- and worst-governed nations - one released Monday, the other last week - both put Mauritius at the top of the heap and Somalia at the bottom and reached often similar, though far from identical, conclusions about the 51 countries in between.

But behind these efforts to assess the voluminous evidence on African governance - a catchall phrase that includes measures like corruption, vaccine coverage, crime rates and armed conflict - lies a dispute between a Harvard political scientist, Robert Rotberg, and a wealthy Sudanese-born philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, who used to finance his research.

For the past two years, Professor Rotberg, the head of a program on conflict resolution at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Mr. Ibrahim, who leads his own foundation, collaborated to produce the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. But they parted ways over who should have final say.

Last week, Professor Rotberg and his colleague, Rachel M. Gisselquist, released their Index of African Governance. Their work is now supported by the Boston-based World Peace Foundation, which Professor Rotberg leads.

In an interview after the indexes were released, Mr. Ibrahim said decisions about the Ibrahim index were always meant to shift to the African researchers and institutions that his foundation's board had increasingly brought into the process - a shift he said Professor Rotberg had resisted.

"Why should an American gentleman sitting in Boston have editorial control?" Mr. Ibrahim asked. "That is unacceptable."

Professor Rotberg saw the dispute differently. He said he and Ms. Gisselquist had invented the index and wanted to retain authority over it. "The issue is academic freedom versus foundation control," he said in a telephone interview on Monday.

The two rival ratings count 9 out of 10 of the same countries among the best and worst governed, though not in the same order. Among the best governed, both name Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Botswana, Tunisia, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and São Tomé and Príncipe. The Rotberg index also includes Algeria in the top 10, while the Ibrahim index counts Lesotho.

Among the worst performers, both count Guinea, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Congo, Chad, Sudan and Somalia. For the Rotberg index, Angola made the bottom 10, while the Ibrahim index included Equatorial Guinea.

They had more substantive differences over rankings for nations in the middle. For example, the Rotberg index ranked Malawi, a small, impoverished southern African nation, 14th, while the Ibrahim index put it 25th.

Daniel Kaufmann, a Brookings Institution expert on corruption who is advising the Ibrahim Foundation, said the effort to make the index an African assessment of African governance could add to its influence on a continent where there is still suspicion of Western research.

"It will be harder to reject because of the Africanization," said Mr. Kaufmann, who was formerly at the World Bank Institute, where he shaped its global governance ratings.

The Ibrahim Foundation has placed full-page advertisements in newspapers in 45 African countries describing its findings in local languages, an attempt to inform a broader public and to encourage civic groups to take advantage of the trove of information on its Web site.

Advisers on the Ibrahim index say it relies on more recent data - from 2008, as well as 2007 - and tracks a broader array of information, including assessments by experts, than does the Rotberg index.

Professor Rotberg said empirical data comparable across countries - the main basis for his and Ms. Gisselquist's rankings - were generally not available for the previous year. That is why they used 2007 data for the 2009 index.

Both indexes offer elaborate and detailed breakdowns of dozens of indicators. Some who have researched similar issues but are not involved in either of the new indexes, like Hennie van Vuuren, in the Cape Town office of the Institute for Security Studies, said the split that led to two indexes was unfortunate.

"It would make much more sense to pool resources and have a methodologically strong index - an instrument that African governments and civil society groups can trust to be a mirror of the state of governance on the African continent," he said.