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UN Survey Reveals Problems with African Governments


A new report by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) looks at how Africans are rating their government's transition to democracy. It also shows the continuing failure of many governments to tackle corruption.

The new African Governance Report is based on data collected over the past three years. It shows public confidence in the democratization efforts of 27 sub-Saharan countries. It also shows support for the reforms, including the introduction of multi-party politics, the delivery of services and improvements in public security.

Professor Okey Onyejekwe, who helped compile the study, is the director of the ECA Development Program Management Division in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

"If we look at the issue of the legitimate alternation of power, countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, Benin, and South Africa [were] ranked uppermost by their people. These are countries that have had successive, peaceful and democratic [changes of government]," he noted.

The report also shows some of the problems in developing democracies in Africa. It found that opposition parties often lack access to resources and security, and electoral commissions are not fully independent.

Also, many of those surveyed indicated dissatisfaction with their governments' efforts to decentralize and to create efficient tax systems. Only a third of those asked expressed confidence in their governments' ability to tackle their daily problems, citing mostly corruption as the main problem.

According to the report, the delivery of public services in most states still remains poor, as seen in inadequate responses to the AIDS pandemic.

The report also exposes some of the problems in creating a system of checks and balances among the presidency, the legislature and the courts.

Onyejekwe says many countries still lack an independent judiciary, one that not only protects civilians, but also enforces business contracts and helps create an environment for economic growth. One problem, he says, is manipulation by political leaders, who often name judges based on friendship and not on merit.

Many African countries also have weak parliaments, which are not able to function as legislatures or deal with budgetary issues.

"When you look at some countries, you may find that only 10 percent have up to a high school education," he explained. "So you can tell that of the people who make it to parliament, [many] don't even have the basic knowledge to engage in this exercise. [But] some countries have been able to recruit candidates with some substantial level of education who understand the process."

Onyejekwe says the ECA, USAID and other groups are helping train specialized parliamentary committees improve their abilities to manage budgets and provide oversight. He says among the countries that have provided training for their parliamentarians are Rwanda, Benin and Namibia.

The report also shows that in some countries, private and public partnerships are working well to promote transparency, cut corruption and improve social services.

The ECA says the African Governance Report offers guidance to both politicians and the public. He says it shows leaders what voters expect in return for their support. It also shows voters the importance of electing leaders who have the education and character to run their governments honestly and effectively.

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