Billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim on Monday attacked the Nigerian federal government for cracking down on unarmed civilians during the #EndSARS protest, a protest that spread to broader calls for better governance.
Human rights monitor Amnesty International has said that 12 people were shot and killed by security forces during the protest in Lagos on 20 October.
But last week, the army denied firing actual rounds, insisting the soldiers only fired blank bullets at crowds that had gathered in defiance of the curfew.
“I really don’t understand why the government needed to attack peaceful protesters,” Ibrahim, a British-Sudanese businessman who made his fortune in telecommunications, told AFP.
“This is what bothers me, this closure of space, of civil society. The right of people to stand up and say their views is a sacred right, and that was totally unacceptable. “
Ibrahim spoke after his foundation suggested that governance progress had slowed in Africa for the first time in a decade, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
In particular, the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance report, published every two years, found that commitment to democracy and civil rights had wavered.
– Progress slowed –
The index ranks each African government on criteria that include anti-corruption measures, protection of civil liberties, and care of the environment.
More than 60 percent of Africans live in countries that made progress in good governance between 2010 and 2019, according to this year’s report.
But progress slowed in the past five years, and this year, for the first time in the past 10 years, the combined score of all countries fell year on year.
The foundation, created in 2006 to focus on the need for good political leadership and public governance in Africa, cited increasing restrictions on people’s ability to exercise their democratic rights and participate in civil society.
The results use data from last year and therefore do not include the impact of the coronavirus.
Since the pandemic began, some elections have been postponed, according to the report. But “the continent had gone through a deterioration of space, participation and civil society rights long before Covid-19.”
There is “an increasingly precarious environment for human rights and civic participation,” as well as a “deteriorating security situation,” he added.
– “Worrying declines” –
Ibrahim told AFP that the Nigerian authorities had deliberately combined peaceful protests with looters, rather than seeing them as two separate events.
Civilians have the right to speak out and the government must listen, he added, noting that Africa’s best-connected youth increasingly question their aging leaders.
Elsewhere in Africa, there have been deadly riots in Guinea and the Ivory Coast sparked by constitutional changes pushed by incumbent presidents to allow them to stay in power.
Post-election clashes have claimed dozens of lives in Côte d’Ivoire and at least 21 in Guinea, where several opposition figures are in police custody for the violence.
Last week, the UN called for urgent measures to protect civilians in the province of Cabo Delgado, northeast of Mozambique, where jihadists are wreaking havoc.
Since 2015, countries’ scores on security, rule of law and participation have slowly declined, while rights and inclusion scores have fallen more dramatically, according to the report.
South Africa, which ranks sixth, has declined over the decade, with a steeper decline since 2015, and is on a “worrying trajectory,” according to the report.
The country’s former president, Jacob Zuma, was ousted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for a series of corruption scandals.
– Covid inequality –
Only one country, Ethiopia, has made progress in all areas measured over a decade, according to the report.
But the nation is now embroiled in a military conflict pitting the federal government against the dissident northern region of Tigray.
“People definitely need dialogue, national dialogue,” Ibrahim told AFP, referring to the situation there.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus now threatens gains in economic opportunity across the continent, he added.
“Covid has exposed inequality like no other factor before … If you’re okay, it’s different.
“If you are a manual worker who makes a living from day to day, lives in a small apartment with three children, and is locked up without government support, it is hell.”