Mo Ibrahim: Pandemic Is Rolling Back Democracy Gains in Africa

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The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated a deterioration in democracy in Africa and the continent may require a fresh crop of statesmen to boost participation, philanthropist Mohamed Ibrahim said.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a gauge that’s popular with investors seeking opportunities in the continent, has shown some improvement over the past 10 to 15 years, Ibrahim said in an interview at the Qatar Economic Forum on Tuesday. But measures of democracy and participation have either stagnated or declined, he said.

“On the balance, things deteriorated actually,” Ibrahim said. “The pandemic did not help. It emphasized the autocratic stance of some of our leaders.”

Elections in several African states in the past two years, including Uganda and Burundi, have been marred by violence, while Mali has had two military takeovers in nine months. The pandemic led to the delay of votes in nations including Ethiopia, while some leaders used the health emergency to ban and restrict the opposition.

Ibrahim made a fortune pioneering a mobile-phone operation in Africa in the 1990s and later started Satya Capital, an Africa-focused private-equity fund. He created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 to support good governance on the continent through initiatives including the governance index and a $5 million leadership award for former heads of state. Laureates include former Liberan leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the ex-president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano.

Ibrahim criticized leaders who have stayed in power for more than 30 years, particular after changing the rules to sustain their rule. That list includes Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Cameroonian leader Paul Biya and Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

“We need strong statesmen not strong men,” Ibrahim said.

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