Two new reports show that Africa still has significant room for improvement in the areas of economic and democratic freedom. The Sub-Saharan Africa region improved only slightly in the 2015 edition of The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s annual Index of Economic Freedom: Thirty-nine of the region’s economies remain “mostly unfree” or “repressed.” In the Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Report, which measures political rights and civil liberties, the region as a whole declined.
Of the world’s 26 “repressed” economies, nine are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and five of those receive scores that are among the 10 lowest in this year’s Index. Improvements are being implemented too slowly, contradicting the “Africa rising” narrative that continues to be a theme at global summits, including the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos.
Mauritius also scored the region’s best score in the Freedom House report. For the past five years, Angola, Comoros, Guinea–Bissau, and Seychelles, have all shown consistent improvement in the Index of Economic Freedom. Also, Liberia and Sierra Leone, both post-conflict countries who are also fighting Ebola, have continued to improve their level of economic freedom.
However, East Africa has been moving toward authoritarianism since about 2011. The pressure put on Kenya by al-Shabaab has caused the country’s current government to tighten its grip on civil society, and the security forces have used extra-judicial authorities to fight terrorists. Kenya has simultaneously declined in the Index of Economic Freedom. The country is currently ranked as “mostly unfree” and sits at 122 out of 178 countries ranked around the world.
Zimbabwe is a “repressed” economy in the Index of Economic Freedom with the lowest score in Africa and ranked 175 out of 178 countries in the world. Zimbabwe scored a 5.5 on the Freedom in the World Report, making it an “unfree” country only slightly better than the Central African Republic and Somalia. Robert Mugabe, the 90-year-old president of Zimbabwe, was just named the new chairman of the African Union, a position which will give him great influence over not only Zimbabwe but all of the countries in the African Union.
As their poor track records in advancing economic freedom, political rights, and civil liberties clearly indicate, the majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to improve their institutional strength. If these countries are serious about changing the global mindset toward Africa, they should look to both of these reports as roadmaps for change. African leaders should take the initiative and adopt policies that create room for a free and open civil society and a free private sector that will allow all Africans to prosper.
Daniel Patrick Shaffer is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.