Africa has become ‘less safe, secure and democratic’ in past decade, report finds

Africa is less safe, secure and democratic than a decade ago, with insecurity holding back progress in health, education and economic opportunities, according to an assessment of the continent.

The Ibrahim index of African governance, which examines how well governments have delivered on policies and services, including security, health, education, rights and democratic participation, said Covid had contributed to the stalling of progress over the past three years.

Mo Ibrahim, a Sudan-born businessman who launched the index in 2007, said economic opportunities and human development had improved “quite a lot” across Africa over the past 10 years. “But on the other hand, we see other forces pulling us back. The security and safety of our people is deteriorating,” he said.

Ibrahim said he was concerned the climate crisis would lead to more conflict over resources, as already seen in parts of Nigeria, Darfur and the Sahel, and worried about the impact of the war in Ukraine on development indicators across the continent.

Worsening governance

“[The Ukraine war] is a disaster for us; it’s affecting our food prices, it’s affecting our fuel prices. It’s a big problem. We’ve been unfortunate because of a number of shocks one after another – Covid-19, which was a shock not just healthwise but also economically – and we can see a developing debt crisis in many African countries.”

According to the index, published on Wednesday, security, rule of law and human rights have deteriorated in more than 30 countries. The report warned that democratic freedoms were being curtailed, citing examples of crackdowns and attacks on protesters calling for an end to police brutality in Nigeria and regime change in Sudan. Protests that have been met with excessive force from the security services have been steadily rising in number since 2016.

The index found that better infrastructure and phone and internet connectivity had improved economic opportunities across Africa since 2012. Health services for children and pregnant women, as well as disease control, had improved, as had education. Better resources and greater efforts in getting more children enrolled and completing their schooling was evident, although progress was slowed by Covid lockdowns.

Nigerian police fire teargas during clashes in Abuja, October 2020, following demonstrations against police brutality.
Nigerian police fire teargas during clashes in Abuja, October 2020, following demonstrations against police brutality. Photograph: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

Mauritius, Seychelles and Tunisia were found to have the most effective governments, while South Sudan, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia had the worst.

South Sudan suffered from a lack of economic opportunity, while almost three-quarters of its population faced hunger, the index found.

Libya, which has seen the biggest deterioration in governance over the past decade due to years of civil war, had some of the worst health, education and social welfare services on the continent.

Biggest improvements

The biggest improvements, however, were seen in the Gambia and Seychelles, with the report highlighting improvements in democratic participation, bucking a continental trend, with fairer elections and greater freedom of assembly and space for civil society to work.

Murithi Mutiga, Africa programme director at Crisis Group, said: “The continent is suffering a triple shock which is almost unprecedented. Covid-19 and its fallout, a generational climatic crisis and now the war in Ukraine, which has resulted in economic pain in a continent that was already vulnerable and was only recovering from the pandemic. It’s critical to ensure there are intense efforts to limit the economic fallout.”

Mutiga pointed out that eight of the 10 most peaceful countries also had the most effective governments and the least corruption.

“In countries where militias have proliferated, they have filled a vacuum of governance, often left by elites in capital cities who are not accountable to the rural populations,” he said.