Track Changes: Measuring Good Governance

In our ongoing series, “Track Changes,” we link to online content that we have found to be problematic in its assumptions, framing, or language and provide a question or thought(s) provoked by each piece. We ask how portrayals and representations need to be not only rephrased, but also reframed and rethought.

by Kathy T. Tran, CIHA Blog Intern, UC Irvine International Studies and Literary Journalism major

Recently, CNN writer Yemisi Adegoke published an article with the headline, “African countries are becoming more dangerous and it’s stalling good governance.” Our first concern with this piece involves the author’s oversimplification of the array of social, economic, and political conditions that occur in various  countries throughout the continent and contribute to the misconception of a “dangerous” other that exists outside of  western societies. Furthermore, the author bases her entire argument on a single report, the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, that unfairly measures “good” governance, as we explain below.

Mo Ibrahim, by Christopher H. Fleming
Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, photo by Christopher H. Fleming

The article does not focus on specific issues within any given country; rather, it represents Africa as a single entity that has become less safe within the last year. As a result, this piece contributes to a patronizing perspective already dominated by major news media. Secondly, the Ibrahim Index has been critiqued for unequal weight of variables that applies to its overall consideration of what constitutes good governance. In the article, “The Dictator Index,” Ken Auletta of the New Yorker highlights the issue arguing that the “immunization of measles” cannot be compared to the “orderly transfer of power.” Furthermore, Dele Meiji Fatunla of African Arguments in 2012 criticizes the Mo Ibrahim Prize for leadership, based on the index, arguing the narrow definition of a leader and the strict criteria for the prize sends a negative message about Africa. Rather than sending negative messages about African governance based on narrow, flawed criteria for leadership, Fatunla suggests the foundation should focus on rewarding countries based on improved performance, as vast strides are being made throughout the continent.

We find the lack of context in the CNN article to be the biggest problem. An index, i.e. a number, could never come close to delineating how governance is enacted in any African country. We look forward to hearing your comments.

Kathy is in her 4th year at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Literary Journalism and International Studies. She enjoys reading, writing, and aspires to travel the world.