Island states emerged as Africa's leading lights in terms of governance and rule of law.
Mauritius and Cape Verde were named among the top three nations in the seventh Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IAAG), with fellow-island state Seychelles at number four.
"Neither Afro-pessimism nor Afro-optimism do justice to modern Africa," said Mo Ibrahim, chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Sudanese-British billionaire investor focused on telecommunications company.
The billionaire is worth USD 1.1 billion according to Forbes, which has placed him as the 1,268th richest man in the world, and the 33rd richest in the United Kingdom.
"This is now the age of Afro-realism - an honest outlook on our continent. It's about a celebration of its achievements but also a pragmatic acknowledgement of the challenges that lie ahead."
The survey of 52 Africa nations shows strong progress since the year 2000. All the African nations showed improved performance in human development, 45 in sustainable economic opportunity, 35 in human rights, while only 20 raised the standards of rule and law over the past 13 years.
Mauritius's top rating comes a month after the World Economic Forum ranked the country as the region's most competitive.
Mauritius shot up nine places to be ranked the world's 45th most competitive economy in The World Economic Forum's benchmark annual Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 2013-14.
MUCH IMPROVED PERFORMANCE
Apart from the three island states, Botswana (ranked 2nd), South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Tunisia, Lesotho and Senegal were among the top nations in terms of governance in the IAAG Index.
In addition, Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi were the 'success stories', showing the greatest improvement from last year's survey.
"Two countries, Angola and Rwanda, have remarkably shown year-on-year improvement in overall governance, coming from their lowest point in 2000 and reaching their highest peak yet in 2012," the report noted.
"However, both of these countries have room for continued improvement, with Rwanda ranking 15th in overall governance, and Angola ranking 39th (out of 52 countries)."
Overall, it was a good year for many countries with 18 out of 52 nations registering their highest ever score in overall governance in this year's ranking.
As a whole, the continent made great strides in managing the AIDS crisis, and reducing external debt service as a proportion of exports. Other key areas of improvement included digital connectivity, human rights conventions and reducing cross-border tensions.
DETERIORATING ENVIRONMENT FOR SOME
Not every country climbed up the ladder. Countries like Madagascar, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and Libya struggled and saw their rankings fall due to a host of economic and political tensions.
The continent also failed poorly in 'soundness of banks' and 'transfers of power', which is surprising given that a number of countries held successful elections.
Another, a key area of concern was safety and rule of law, which has shown the largest sub-category level deterioration since 2000, according to Hadeel Ibrahim, founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
"In this continent, where two-thirds of the population is now under 25, these diverging trends within the Safety & Rule of Law category are concerning. They may sound a warning signal, with the new century seeing fewer regional conflicts but increased domestic social unrest," said Ibrahim.
The index breaks the region into five key areas: Southern Africa, North Africa, Central Asia, East Africa and West Africa.
Southern Africa includes Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As a region, Southern Africa states fared the best in the survey - as they have done since the index's inception in 2000.
The region has shown an increase in overall score of +4.3 since 2000. Three categories have shown improvements: +1.4 in Participation & Human Rights, +6.7 in Sustainable Economic Opportunity and +9.9 in Human Development. Safety & Rule of Law is the only category to have shown a decline (-0.7), since 2000.
North Africa includes Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
The region, surprisingly, emerged as the second best region in terms of overall governance despite the range of political crisis unfolding in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Indeed, the region was ranked first in human development and sustainable economic opportunity.
West Africa includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé & Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The region was ranked third as countries like Cape Verde, Ghana, Senegal and São Tomé & Príncipe led the way with strong performance in human development and security issues.
East Africa includes Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya,
Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
East Africa is home to some of the most promising countries in Africa such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, but it ranked fourth overall, weighed down by countries like Somalia and Eritrea.
Central Africa includes Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Landlocked Central Africa was at the bottom of the list, as the regional countries struggled with key indicators such as safety and rule of law.
The report comes two years before the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which includes halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by 2015.
"They have helped drive some remarkable achievements but it appears clear that some important MDGs will not be reached," Ibrahim wrote in the preface of the report. "This has led during the year to an increased focus on what we can learn from these successes and failures as well as shaping the post-2015 MDG development framework."
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