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Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese businessman and founder of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, addresses the media before the announcement by Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Prize committee, of the winner of the inaugural Mo Ibrahim Prize in London, Monday, Oct. 22, 2007.SANG TAN/The Associated Press

Africa's twin challenges form a vicious circle: too many people are poor, meaning they can't keep their governments accountable for poor governance, which in turn makes it harder for them to escape poverty. Canada should reward those countries that are improving their governance with more aid, and reduce aid to those failing their citizens.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation released a report this week on governance in Africa, saying "many [Africans]are less physically secure and less politically enfranchised" than five years ago. But some states are improving, especially Liberia, Angola and Togo.

Canada is already refocusing 80 per cent of its aid in just 20 countries. But our aid policy seems not to take governance into account. Mr. Ibrahim's top performers are not countries of focus for the Canadian International Development Agency, which spent just $10-million in the three states in 2008-09. Of the top 10 countries in the index, Canada has prioritized one: Ghana. Meanwhile, Ethiopia, where human rights are declining, and Sudan, sixth lowest in the Ibrahim report, are two of the seven priority countries in Africa.

It is true that the Sudanese and the Ethiopians have great needs, and CIDA programs could help boost their incomes and civil society so as to make their governments more accountable.

With cabinet approval, though, the list of priority countries can be changed. It is supposed to be guided by countries' needs, their capacity to benefit from aid and "their alignment with Canadian foreign policy priorities."

That should include supporting governments that are already accountable. Good governance is one of the foundations for economic development. It also makes existing aid programs more effective. And despotic governments might abuse their citizens less, and provide better for human needs, if they knew that Western largesse was at risk. The Ibrahim report should not dictate Canadian aid policy. But it ought to serve as a useful guide.

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