Africa’s development chances and social possibilities remain heavily hindered by its overall mediocre governance. Despite the talk of Africa rising and growth rates that now exceed other parts of the globe, too many of the continent’s peoples are subject to the kinds of governments that favour ruling elites rather than ordinary villagers and townspeople. Growth rarely trickles down.

The latest Index of African Governance, released last week, confirms such sorry conclusions. For the eighth year in a row Mauritius, an island nation that belongs to the African Union but is well out in the Indian Ocean, has been deemed the African country with the best governance, scoring 81.7 on a scale of 100. Next best, as they have been for nearly all of the Index’s eight years, are Cape Verde (another island group, in the Atlantic Ocean) and Botswana, mainland Africa’s consistently best performer across many dimensions since 1966. No surprises there.

Following the top three are South Africa (which has moved up slightly in the rankings despite massive corruption and serious labour problems), the Seychelles (which has dropped slightly), Namibia, Ghana (the best West African performer), Tunisia (despite its Arab Spring tumult), Senegal, tiny Lesotho (which had a coup since the rankings were prepared), and Rwanda (which only this year has entered the top dozen after climbing in the ratings year by year thanks to tough leadership). Sao Tome, Zambia and Morocco rank next.

Morocco’s score is 58, and the average across all of Africa’s 52 countries (Sudan and South Sudan are not included) is 51.5, showing how distant even the upper middle ranking countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Benin, Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique (all of whom rank below Morocco) are from the top performers. Sierra Leone (before Ebola), Egypt, and Gabon are all at 51, the average score.

Gabon is number 27 on the list, from top to bottom. At the nadir is Somalia, a country without a real government, with an Index score of 9. Just above Somalia are the war-torn Central African Republic, dictatorial Eritrea, despotic Chad, drug-infused Guinea-Bissau, the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), harshly-ruled Zimbabwe, and oil-rich but autocratic Equatorial Guinea. The peoples of each of those countries have since at least 2000 hardly ever known such components of good governance as the rule of law, security, educational opportunity, freedom of speech and assembly, or the absence of wild corruption.

Nor have the inhabitants of such major producers of oil such as Angola (which ranks 44th on the Index) or the Ivory Coast, number 36, which grows much of the world’s cocoa. Nigeria, with its Boko Haram insurgency, perennial corruption, and weak governance under President Goodluck Jonathan, scores 46 (below the middle) and is 37th in the ratings list. It is Africa’s largest country and soon to become the third largest in the world. The fact that Nigeria, with bustling, entrepreneurial people, and a reasonable educational system, performs so poorly on the Index rankings testifies to the steady weakness of African governance and thus to the failure over many decades of African leaders and their governments to deliver responsible and effective governmental services – governance – to their constituents.

Africa’s contemporary economic rise will only be sustained if the lessons of the best and the better governed African countries are embraced by all, or at least most, of the nations of Africa. Mauritius, Cape Verde, and Botswana have long limited corruption, fortified their rule of law regimes, run free and fair elections, embraced the four freedoms and fully respected the human rights of virtually all of their citizens, and provided exemplary educational and medical facilities. As a result, their peoples have prospered and enjoyed the best social services in Africa while those persons who have had the misfortune to be born in some nearby countries, such as the DRC, have remained poor and often brutalized by conflict.

Governance, to be clear, is the delivery of essential services such as security, rule of law, political participation, economic opportunity, and human development (education, health, etc) to all citizens within a country. Lack of security and safety (civil conflict and crime) detracts from scores, as does the paucity of clean water, or the inability to keep girls in school. (Methodologically, the way in which the scores are compiled has changed since I created the Index in 2007, but comparisons across time are still valid. The Index is now issued by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, in London.)

Most of Africa, as the numbers show (and as a global array of scores would demonstrate more dramatically), just doesn’t measure up. When its largest country ranks 37th, with a score below the middle, it is obvious that improvements across the continent are essential if the continent’s peoples are to achieve the results that they want and deserve -- but only some of their leaders respect and insist upon. Canada and other Western powers should focus their foreign assistance on strengthening governance for all, not cosseting autocratic rulers or bolstering resource-rich elites. China does that, but Canada, the United States, and Europe need not.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.