10 Unexpected but Well-Governed Countries

Flags of the world

Everyone knows that the Scandinavian countries have great welfare systems, low levels of corruption and highly responsive governments. Just as everyone knows that Singapore and Hong Kong have incredibly efficient bureaucracies and do a great job attracting business from around the world. But there are some other sparkling examples of good governance scattered throughout the world and in places you might never expect to look. Here are 10 countries that may not come to mind immediately when you think of a well run nation but which certainly deserve the accolade.

1.    Botswana

Botswana is located in the heart of southern Africa, a region that has been a bastion of instability since the end of colonial rule. Angola has experienced a protracted civil war, Robert Mugabe has single-handedly ruined Zimbabwe’s economy, and South Africa has suffered egregious racial discrimination for decades. Meanwhile, Botswana has enjoyed a largely peaceful and democratic post-colonial period. It has forged strategic partnerships with international mining firms such as De Beers to benefit its economy and has taken great strides in alleviating poverty. Between 1966 and 1999 Botswana had the world’s highest average growth rate at around 9%. It ranks 30th in both the Corruption Perception Index and the Economic Freedom Index, far higher than any of its neighbors.

2.    Estonia

The Baltic state emerged from years of economic stagnation and political repression during the Cold War and after a slow start has started to turn the corner. Estonia grew at a rate of 2.4% last year, when much of Europe was mired in recession. It ranks 21st in the World Bank’s Doing Business report with an impressive 7th place in trading across borders and 14th in ease of property registration. At 32nd in the Corruption Perception Index it easily beat the other Baltic States (Lithuania is 48th and Latvia is in a tie for 54th).

3.    Uruguay

Uruguay has been no exception to the authoritarian and violent history of much of South America. However, after transitioning to democracy in the late 1980s Uruguay has outshined many of its regional competitors in rule of law, transparency and the administration of justice. The World Justice Project gives Uruguay some of the highest scores across all factors for its region. The same report shows Uruguay tied for low corruption rates with countries like the United States and Belgium.

4.    Chile

Chile has always been a bit of a standout in Latin America. It too suffered from dictatorial rule during the Cold War but has since proven to have a robust democracy. Its two most recent presidents, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastian Pinera, were competent leaders who successfully steered Chile away from the worst of the 2008 global financial crisis. Chile takes second place for Latin America in most of the World Justice Project’s rankings, coming in just short of Uruguay which takes the region’s top honours. Chile is the easiest place to do business in Latin America, according to the World Bank.

5.    Malaysia

The only Asian country to crack the top 10 is Malaysia. Though often maligned for irregularities in its domestic political structure, Malaysia’s bureaucracy is fairly efficient and its governance sound, particularly for a country whose GDP is floating at around 10,000 USD per capita. Malaysia has 96% primary school enrollment and an average life expectancy of 74 years, a full year above the Asia Pacific average. It ranks an impressive 12th in the Ease of Doing Business report.

6.    Georgia

A recent prisoner abuse scandal highlights a clear lack of command and control and rule of law in Georgia. The nation also lost large parts of its territory, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to Russian invasion. Nonetheless, once the scandal was brought to light it was widely condemned and the government mobilized quickly to deal with it. The Russian invasion should be seen as a failing of the international community, more than a failing of Georgia who can hardly be expected to defend themselves against their immensely more powerful northern neighbor. On the positive side, Georgia recently experienced a peaceful transition of power and seems to have a fairly effective democratic system. Georgia’s most impressive accomplishments can be found in the Doing Business report, where Georgia ranks 9th overall. The World Bank credits Georgia with the world’s best property registration system, its 3rd best construction permit system, and its 7th best new business registration system. Starting a new company requires just two procedures and two days, far outshining most OECD countries.

7.    Slovenia

Slovenia is another nation that stagnated for decades under communism, but it has wasted no time in emerging from its shadows. Slovenia entered NATO in 2004, became the first former communist state to enter the Eurozone in 2007 and joined the OECD in 2010. Slovenia ranks high across many of the World Justice Project indicators, making it a regional leader in fighting corruption, providing public safety and promoting government transparency. Slovenia still has a ways to go in lowering its 14% poverty rate and restarting its weakened economy after the financial crisis. Nonetheless, it has made highly impressive strides in the last two decades and should be noted for it.

8.    Iceland

Iceland is perhaps a more conventional choice, given its traditional grouping with western European powers and high GDP per capita. Yet a recent banking crisis, international bailout and political stagnation have given many observers reason to doubt the competency of this small island nation’s government. However, international governance watchers would be remiss to overlook that Iceland still ranks 11th in the Corruption Perceptions Index and 14th in the Doing Business report, and after a severe recession in 2009-2010 Iceland has returned to strong and consistent economic growth.

9.    Mauritius

Mauritius is a country that might leave many scratching their heads trying to find it on a map. It is a small island, with a population of just 1.2 million, off the east coast of Madagascar. At 19th, Mauritius leads all African countries in the Doing Business report with its tax collection system considered the 12th best in the world. Mauritius has also been highly strategic in its international treaty making and has secured excellent investment and trade deals with highly favorable terms. In fact, Mauritius is the main provider of FDI to India because multinationals will use the so-called “Mauritius Route” to take advantage of the country’s excellent investment agreement with Delhi.

10. Barbados

Barbados is more likely to spark images of relaxing beach vacations than competent technocrats ensuring a well-functioning government. Yet Barbados ranks as the world’s 15th least corrupt government and 31st in easing cross-border trade. The World Bank ranks Barbados in the 89th percentile for government accountability and the 82nd percentile for rule of law. The Bank also gives the country very high marks for political stability and the absence of violence.


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Categories: International, Politics

Author:Evan Abrams

Evan is a master’s student at the London School of Economics, studying international relations with a focus on political economy. He was the co-founder of Innova Media Solutions, a media consulting firm focusing on nonprofits, and currently works as an Internet Strategy Consultant for Anant Corporation. He has done internships with the U.S. Department of Commerce, two U.S. Senators, and Socially Responsible Investing World Group. Evan graduated Magna Cum Laude from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service with a bachelors of science in international politics and will be pursuing a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) at Georgetown University Law Center beginning in the fall.


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8 Comments on “10 Unexpected but Well-Governed Countries”

  1. Evans
    June 3, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    am not sure why I think Rwanda should be on that list

  2. Vasant Moharir, Dr
    June 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Without fully stating your criteria of “well governed”, your selection of countries does not appear convincing. For example treatment of minorities will be an important criterion for any country to be called well governed. Some of the countries in your choice like Malaysia may not score very high on this. Its efficient bureaucracy is mentioned but it is not stated how representative it is of the society. Many countries in your sample are small where making the difference is not so difficult as in big countries like India, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh. Also when one looks at countries like Singapore, Botswana there are some unique aspects of location, history which cannot be replicated in other countries. Vasant Moharir

    • Navin
      June 17, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      Agreed. In addition, Botswana, which is well considered for its development model, carries the burden of one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world – not to mention a near 20% unemployment rate. Anyway, these rankings are done more so for investors – not citizens. Funny, eh?

  3. June 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Estonia has a flat income tax. The Flat Earth No Growth Marxists in the Media – don’t mention that simple fact because it goes against the re-distribution mantra of the Marxist Progressive Income Tax (Read the Communist Manifesto – it’s #1 of the 10 Planks). Now with the Stalinist tactics of the Obama administration using the IRS to target political opponents, it’s time to follow the lead of Estonia – one of the several Eastern Block countries that benefited greatly from being freed from the yolk of Communist oppression – get rid of the Progressive Income tax, get rid of the IRS, institute a flat or fair tax.

  4. billfox284
    June 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    Estonia has a FLAT TAX. After Reagan helped to bring down the Soviet System, the irony is that Socialists and their cronies continue to destroy the US economy, while the former soviet states including Putin’s Russia are experimenting with the Flat Tax successfully! Now that we have the Obama administration using the IRS and Stalinist tactics to target political opponents, we have truly done a complete role reversal!

  5. Rosmah Mansor @ Bik Mama
    June 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Malaysia? like seriously? I’m Malaysian, and if you want to know our last election full of vote rigging, bias media, and other 3rd world problem.

  6. October 3, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on dipublicus.

  7. Marc Foucault
    November 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    A totally irrelevant list in regard to some mentioned countries.
    Just to name a few, governments in Uruguay and Chile are probably amongst the most legitimate in the America.

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