Look south Oct 1st 2009 From The Economist print edition The latest report on the continent's progress has some surprising findings AFTER only three years, the annual publication of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance has become a bit of a ritual. Compiled by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which was set up by a British Sudanese-born telecoms magnate turned philanthropist, the index gives a progress report on Africa's 53 countries. Mr Ibrahim made his name by championing democracy and good government on the continent, but his index includes economic indicators too. He lists four main criteria in measuring overall progress: safety and the rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development. This year's results, albeit based on statistics from 2007 to 2008, show little change at the top. Islands still do best. Mauritius again comes first, followed by the Cape Verde Islands and the Seychelles. Botswana and South Africa are fourth and fifth. For the first time since the index came out, the five north African countries (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) are included for comparison with their sub-Saharan peers. Across the continent, Africa-watchers will eagerly note which countries have gone up or down in the pecking order (see www.moibrahimfoundation.org and our chart). Against a general assumption that the Arab northerners are more developed than countries south of the Sahara, the index shows that in overall terms the northerners lag slightly behind. North Africa generally scores well on economic criteria but badly on "participation" (ie, elections) and human rights. On such counts, Libya drags the north right down. Southern Africa does quite well on governance and human rights; five of the top ten overall best performers hail from that region. West Africa trails north Africa, followed by east Africa. The central region, dominated by shambolic Congo, is at the bottom. The index gives a fillip to several post-conflict countries. The most improved is Liberia, which, under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has been recovering from terrible civil strife. Countries can move up the list fast, especially if they start near the bottom. Angola, Burundi and Sierra Leone are big risers. Sierra Leone is still dirt-poor but has had two fairly good elections since peace returned in 2002. By contrast, Nigeria and Kenya had bad elections-and have dropped down the list. Conversely, countries seem to decline more slowly than they improve. Eritrea has slipped fastest: it has a dreadful human-rights record. Zimbabwe continues to fall, though its national-unity government that took office this year may stem that slide by next year. Somalia remains at the very bottom of the table. Two countries will be disappointed. In 2007 the first Mo Ibrahim prize, worth $5m for Africa's best leader, went to a former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano. He may have helped to heal the wounds of civil war in his country, but it has fallen from 20th to 26th in three years. And another country doing less well than it likes to proclaim is Rwanda. It has barely shifted in the index yet claims to be pioneering a new development model in central Africa. Its economic improvement under President Paul Kagame seems to have stalled; it gets ever-lower marks for freedom and civil rights.