Human Freedom Index 2016 logoAt the end of 2016, a new Human Freedom Index was released. This index objectively measures personal and economic freedom in every country by using standard metrics. Seven out of the top 10 most free countries are in Northern Europe. The other three in the top 10 are Hong Kong (#1), New Zealand (#3), and Canada (#6). The countries I'm associated with are clustered together: United States (23), Chile (29), France (31).

But how did the African countries do?

The one-word answer is poorly. But they've got company. The Middle East and South Asia also have limited freedoms.  

However, let's delve deeper into the report.

The island nation of Seychelles topped the African freedom index and ranked 51st overall. Next are Ghana (59), Madagascar (65), Namibia (69), South Africa (74), and Benin (79).

On the other extreme, the bottom five African countries are Libya (159, which is the bottom of the planet), the Central African Republic (155), Algeria (152), the Democratic Republic of Congo (151), and Angola (150).

In fact, 19 out of the bottom 28 countries are African countries.

Surprising results

I'm surprised by how well Ghana did. One metric that the Freedom Index measures is press freedom. However, Ghana is home the world's most famous journalist that nobody knows: Anas Aremeyaw Anas. You probably don't know him, but you can read his Wikipedia article. Or watch his TED Talk:



I asked one of the co-authors of the report, Tanja Por─Źnik, who is the President of the Visio Institute, to address Ghana's results and she wrote back:

The 2016 Human Freedom Index (HFI) compares 159 countries on 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom. Naturally, we would like to measure even more layers of freedom, though we are constrained with the availability of the credible external sources that cover at least 70% of the countries included in the HFI. For the sake of objectivity, we do not generate indicators.

When it comes to specifically measuring wide-spread corruption in Ghana within the Human Freedom Index, two things need to be explained. When measuring corruption, this year's HFI report includes corruption in the second component (1Aii: rating civil justice on such issues as whether it is free of discrimination, corruption, and improper government influence and the third component (1Aiii: rating the criminal justice system on such issues as its impartiality, its level of corruption, and the degree to which improper government influence is present).

Worth noting is that last year's HFI report measured corruption to a larger extent as the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International was included. Since data on corruption in the Arab world are not available going back to 1990, this measurement has been excluded from the Economic Freedom of the World report, from which the Human Freedom Index takes the economic freedom scores.

Press freedom specifically is measured with three indicators of the Human Freedom Index.

First, press killings [2Di] refers to murders of journalists in retribution for, or to prevent, news coverage or commentary and journalists killed on dangerous assignments as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Second, laws and regulations that influence media content [2Dii] is an assessment by Freedom House of the legal environment that governments can use to restrict the media’s ability to operate.
Third, a Freedom House assessment of the political environment’s influence on the media [2Diii] measures political pressure over news and editorial content.

Human freedoms move slowly. Events like the collapse of the communist governments in Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 are rare events. Usually, freedoms accrue slowly. An example is the increased civil rights of minorities in the United States. Measuring human freedoms is important because, as any accountant will tell you, get you get what you measure.

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