Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Who Exactly Do African Governance Rankings Talk To?

Something that irks me about Mo Ibrahim's governance index is that the people in these badly-governed countries have little agency with which to correct the situation. This would take voting, for example. A plebiscite, maybe. A changing of the old guard preferably by popular vote to instill good governance in a transparent, efficient manner that respects the people it governs.

For the most part, if you were to go on the streets of Niamey or Luanda and tell people their ranking on the index, they'll probably just shrug. I don't blame them. When I saw Nigeria's ranking, I texted my Nigerian friends and had a good laugh about it.

Increasingly, I wonder if the point of the index is to show, not that many African countries are governed badly, but that there are "good Africans" out there who care that respective African countries are governed badly. I think this is a good thing to say and think. The problem, however, is to which audience this is directed at.

The world in which so many non-Western people live is such that one must go West -- Europe, America, Canada -- to prove oneself worthy, even amongst ones own. Nigeria's literary darlings are proof of this. Chimamanda Adichie wouldn't have gained such acclaim, for example, had she been based entirely in Nigeria and only been published in Nigeria. Even beyond that, so many Africans in the diaspora are in the diaspora in order to get educated, that we may go to our respective countries and be taken seriously and/or noticed.

The yardstick with which so many Africans -- non-Westerners, really -- measure themselves in decidedly Western. As such, the problem with being known as the "basket case continent" is that you, being from there, have to prove that you are not crazy. There arises this need among some to advertise their humanity, and the people to whom the governance index is being advertised is not to the citizens of the respective African countries who have to endure the bad government, but to them.

Mo Ibrahim's governance index drives home how badly we need to be looked in a good light, but not because we need the investment dollars. Surely, if you are Somalia you aren't getting any, and if you were rich in resources you'd get the investment anyway, well-governed or not (Nigeria and Angola are pretty low on this index, you'll notice). It's because the good guys amongst us need to be seen as separate from the bad guys. The need that people have for this, and the fact that indexes like these are welcome, is just terribly depressing to me.

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