Reform in Africa has been at the forefront of the continent’s priorities as a result of the complicated, and sometimes chronic, problems African states have experienced over recent decades.
As a result of the fluctuating performance of many countries regarding the reform process, there has often been a negative evaluation of reform efforts in Africa. But the reality is that there are many successful African reform experiences that can be important assets in the continent’s future.
International indicators provide appropriate tools to monitor the continent’s reform progress, as well as objective criteria in assessing the success of African countries in their reform efforts in recent years and as ways of monitoring their development relative to the more advanced countries.
Mauritius ranked first in Africa and 20th in the Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2018, surpassing more advanced countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Mauritius was in 25th place in 2015, and in this respect it also contrasts with the global trend that has seen a decline in such indicators in much of the world.
The GPI, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) headquartered in Sydney in Australia, looks at countries in terms of 20 variables including external and internal conflicts, relations with neighbouring countries, crime, security, military capabilities and the ability to control the proliferation of weapons.
Maintaining peace in a country such as Mauritius may seem unproblematic in the light of the small size of the island and its limited population, but the truth is that reform policies aimed to manage diversity in Mauritius and to prevent conflicts between the different elements of society there have never been an easy task.
The people of Mauritius are of various origins, with some being of Indian heritage and others of Chinese. Some are of French origins, and others are from Creole groups and the descendants of indigenous people who married foreigners.
This variety has been reflected in religious pluralism, as the Mauritian population includes the followers of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. As a result, governments in Mauritius have committed themselves to the principles of equal citizenship and good governance in order to create balanced and peaceful relationships between the various groups on the island.
Some African countries have unfortunately been afflicted with a “resource curse,” in other words the discovery of natural resources in economically exploitable quantities that have gone on to cause problems such as foreign intervention, internal conflicts and mismanagement to the benefit of limited groups.
While Botswana in southern Africa is a major diamond producer and the second-largest producer globally after Russia, it is also one of the most successful countries in the African continent in terms of managing its economic resources and turning their revenues into motors for economic development.
The reason behind Botswana’s almost unique success has been its early interest in fighting corruption, which in 2018 led to placing the country first in Africa and 34th in the world in the NGO Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), surpassing countries such as Spain, South Korea and Italy.
This index is highly credible, and it relies on a composite formula that combines expert ratings with opinion polls on the performance of state institutions in each country.
The institutional and legislative structures set up to combat corruption in Botswana have been in progress since the early 1990s, with presidential commissions set up to investigate major allegations of corruption.
This formula has been developed into a permanent anti-corruption agency, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, which was founded in 1994 to combat corruption and to take preventive measures against it.
In addition to its work on corruption investigations, the directorate has also helped to spread an anti-corruption culture throughout the country. In 2009, anti-corruption efforts developed under the auspices of the president resulted in the drawing up of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and the establishment of the Botswana Financial Intelligence Agency that closely monitors financial activities and informs law-enforcement agencies of any suspected wrongdoing.
In the latest World Bank Doing Business report, the central African country of Rwanda ranked 29th in the world ahead of advanced economies such as Spain, France and Japan.
Mauritius ranked first in Africa in the report, but it has traditionally been present in the ranking since it was first released in 2006, while Rwanda has advanced from 150th place in the world in 2008 to 29th today through a long series of reforms.
Measures adopted by Rwanda in recent years have included facilitating the launch of new businesses and projects, facilitating electronic registration, reforms in the enforcement of business contracts, and litigation-related reforms in cases of damage caused by unforeseen circumstances.
Measures have been taken to facilitate land-tenure and dispute-settlement mechanisms to transfer ownership in seven days and at a cost not exceeding 0.1 per cent of value.
These reforms have been strongly reflected in overall economic performance indicators, with the number of newly registered domestic companies in Rwanda increasing from 418 in 2008 to 13,394 in 2017.
Rwanda’s reforms in terms of ease of doing business cannot only be assessed by economic indicators, however, as a result of the predominantly youthful composition of Rwandan society and the decline in the government’s capacities to offer employment.
The ease of engaging young people in business is one of the factors that helps to open up prospects of their economic and social progress.
Rwanda is in need of such engagement, notably in the light of the desire of the Rwandese leadership to eliminate the economic, social and cultural conditions that led the country to civil war 20 years ago.
Some African countries have used their human, material and even cultural potential to raise their overall strength in various fields.
Egypt is one of the most important African countries to have adopted such policies, according to the State Power Index presented to the European Commission at its offices in Warsaw in 2017.
Egypt ranks first in Africa and 19th in the world among the 168 countries included in this index, which measures the development of the overall strength of each country in the world since the end of the Cold War in 1991 until the report was published in 2017.
Egypt scored better than some more advanced countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium, and it did better than regional powers such as Iran and Israel.
The index is one of the most comprehensive in terms of the factors measured, which include military, economic, demographic, diplomatic, geographic and even cultural indicators that bring together what can be called the variables of solid power and changes in the country’s soft power to form a single estimate.
Improvements in these indications have enabled Egypt to occupy an advanced position in the index in the light of developments in its military capabilities, its steady population growth, its frequent economic reforms to correct structural imbalances, and its effective engagement in achieving peace in the Middle East and Africa.
The cultural variety seen in Egypt’s soft power remains one of the most important sources of the country’s overall strength, as it represents a strong pillar of peace and stability at home, and the values of Egyptian culture are widely accepted abroad.
In the light of these experiences and the lessons to be learned from them, the African countries may confidently progress on various paths of reform, and the continent as a whole can look ahead with cautious optimism.
* The writer is an expert in African affairs
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Varied paths of reform in Africa