E. Gyimah-Boadi is co-founder and executive director of Afrobarometer and a retired professor of politics at the University of Ghana, Legon. He is also executive director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development.
Among the many ways to measure progress towards a vision as rich and ambitious as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), the perceptions of average citizens must be counted as one of the most important. Afrobarometer, a pan-African, nonpartisan research network, has been conducting public attitude surveys on democracy and governance, elections, rights, economic conditions, and related issues since 1999. Its sixth round of surveys (2014/2015), in 36 countries in all regions of Africa, represents more than three-fourths of the continent’s population. On most indicators relevant to the ACDEG’s first decade, citizens describe advances in some countries and stagnation or backsliding in others. Together, these voices provide both reason for hope and impetus for action.
Despite warning signs of a democratic recession, public support for democracy is strongerthan a decade ago, and most Africans say they want more democracy than they’re actually getting.
Many Africans are skeptical of the management and quality of elections in their countries.
Political and civic engagement by African youth is declining and is particularly weak among young women.
Based on Afrobarometerdata, Transparency International estimates that nearly 75 million Africans paid a bribe in the past year– some to escape punishment by the police orcourts, but many to get access to basic services.
Access to justice
Weak public trust, high perceptions of corruption, and diﬃculties encountered when engaging with the courts make access to justice a challenge in many African countries.
Freedom of association
Eight in 10 Africans feel at least “somewhat free” to join any political organisation they want.
Regional integration - freedom of movement
Many citizens are not yet convinced of the benefits of integration
Amid growing concerns about restrictions on media freedom, Africans overwhelmingly support an independent media that holds government accountable
Contrary to common portrayals, Africans express high degrees of tolerance forpeople from diﬀerent ethnic groups (91%), people of diﬀerent religions (87%), immigrants (81%), and people living with HIV/AIDS (68%).
If weakening demand for democracy, low trust in electoral commissions, declining youth engagement, and perceptions of increasing corruption are cause for concern, they are also calls to action, fired by hopeful findings: Africans do want more democracy than they are getting. Most want high-quality elections and a free news media. Most want a strong fight against corruption, and think they can do their part.
Giving voice to ordinary citizens, public-opinion survey findings can point us toward problems and opportunities. Highlights that scratch the surface push us to dig deeper into millions of data points illuminating diﬀerences and trends by country and region, gender, age group, and other factors – all ready to be mined by those working for a more democratic, equitable, and inclusive Africa.
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