Key Findings on Public Opinion in Africa
Afrobarometer Briefing Paper No. 1 April 2002
KEY FINDINGS ABOUT PUBLIC OPINION IN AFRICA
What do Africans think about democracy and development?
The Afrobarometer* provides some answers. The Afrobarometer is a pioneering effort to systematically measure public opinion in a dozen African countries using survey research methods. This brochure summarizes eleven key findings from Round 1 surveys, completed in mid-2001.
The surveys cover the following countries: Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The findings for each country are based on nationally representative samples (usually 1200 respondents) and a total of over 21,000 interviews. The survey does not represent Africa as a whole, but only countries that have introduced a measure of democratic and market reforms over the last decade. Thus, when we refer to ÒAfricans,Ó we have in mind the citizens of these countries.
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1. For Africans, democracy means freedom
When asked, Òwhat, if anything, does democracy mean to you?Ó most Africans refer to civil liberties (40 percent of all responses), especially freedom of speech. They also see democracy as meaning Ògovernment by the peopleÓ (15 percent). Thus, Africans regard democracy mainly in terms of freedom, which is a liberal conception, though they also value opportunities for ordinary people to participate in politics, a more populist view. Interestingly, Africans rarely associate democracy with voting and elections (just 9 percent).
* The Afrobarometer is produced collaboratively by social scientists from 15 African countries. It is coordinated by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), and Michigan State University. Several donors support the AfrobarometerÕs research, capacity-building and outreach activities, including the Swedish International Development Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For more information, including reports with complete findings, see:
2. Support for democracy is widespread in Africa
Support for Democracy
Across 12 countries, more than two out of three
Africans interviewed say that democracy is
Òalways preferableÓ to non-democratic forms of
government (69 percent). At the same time,
clear majorities reject authoritarian alternatives
like military rule (82 percent), one-man rule (80
percent), and one-party rule (69 percent).
These findings suggest that experiments with
multiparty democracy have a wide popular base
and that dictators and military rulers have been
roundly rejected. But popular support for
democracy varies greatly between countries,
40 58 60 60 65 71 75 77 80 81 84 85
0 20 40 60 80 100
from 85 percent in Botswana to 40 percent in
Lesotho. And in Uganda, Tanzania and South
Africa, many people remain attached to the idea of one-party rule.
3. Africans expect democracy to deliver basic welfare
When asked about the features of Òa democratic society,Ó almost everyone (89 percent) thinks it important that citizens have access to the basic necessities of life (like food, water and shelter). In practice, people want democracy to deliver these benefits, including education, even more strongly than they insist on regular elections, majority rule, competing political parties, and
freedom to criticize the government (all about 75 percent). Thus, Africans are predisposed to Satisfaction with Democracy judge the performance of democracy primarily in terms of its record at delivering
Namibia Tanzania Uganda
18 38 52 54 57 60 60 62 63 64 75 84
0 20 40 60 80 100
improvements in the socioeconomic sphere.
4. People are not fully satisfied with
Asked whether they are Òsatisfied with the way
democracy worksÓ in their country,
Afrobarometer respondents are lukewarm. The
proportion expressing satisfaction with
democracyÕs performance (58 percent) lags
behind the proportion that say they support
democracy (69 percent, see above). And only
21 percent are Òvery satisfied.Ó The lowest
levels are recorded in Zimbabwe, where only 18
percent are at all satisfied.
5. Unemployment is the top problem on the peopleÕs development agenda
Asked to name the most important problems facing their country, survey respondents cite economic problems (51 percent) more frequently than social (42 percent) or political problems (7 percent). The most prominent economic problem is defined as ÒunemploymentÓ in the industrialized Southern African countries, but as ÒpovertyÓ or Òfood shortagesÓ in more rural places like Mali and Malawi. Except in Botswana, AIDS is rarely spontaneously mentioned (just 3 percent), though some who cite ÒhealthÓ (ranked second overall) may be referring to AIDS.
6. People are unsatisfied with economic conditions
Satisfaction with the Economy
Fewer than one out of three (29 percent)
express any degree of satisfaction with
the condition of the national economy.
In addition, more people think that their
living standards have worsened over the previous year than perceive
improvements. The only exception is
Uganda, where a majority is satisfied
with overall economic conditions (62
percent). Interestingly, economic
satisfaction is related to the recent
growth in the national economy, but not
to an individualÕs felt or actual living
standards. Because economic
satisfaction is far lower than satisfaction 0 20 40 60 80 Percent
with democracy, the latter must be due in good part to non-economic considerations.
7. Africans support some economic reform policies, but not others
Reform programs to expand the role of the market in the economy meet with mixed reviews. On average, across twelve countries, majorities accept price reforms that have introduced user fees for social services (62 percent) and restored market pricing for consumer goods (54 percent). But, similar majorities reject institutional reforms, for example to privatize public corporations (58 percent) and to cut back the number of jobs in the civil service (60 percent). While Africans welcome looser regulation on trading, they still want the state to provide employment.
8. Corruption is seen as pervasive
Whereas about one-half of survey respondents think that corruption among public officials is common (52 percent), about one-third think it is rare (35 percent). Perceived corruption is highest in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and lowest in Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia. Generally, however, people perceive more corruption than they themselves have personally experienced. Such perceptions, and the social inequalities they reflect, tend to corrode satisfaction with economic reform policies and with democracy.
9. Africans do not always define themselves in ethnic terms
Asked Òwhich group do you feel you belong to first and foremost?Ó Afrobarometer respondents cited occupations (e.g. farmer, trader, etc.) more often than ethnic identities (27 percent versus 25 percent). Overwhelmingly, people express pride in their self-defined group identity and do not consider that it conflicts with national identity. Countries vary considerably, however: whereas occupational identities predominate in Tanzania and Uganda,
ethnicity remains the most important in Nigeria and Namibia. And in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa, people are prone to think that the government treats their group unfairly.
10. Between elections, political participation is low
The Africans we interviewed claim high levels of electoral participation, with 71 percent saying they voted in the last national election. But participation between elections is lower, with 47 percent attending a community meeting, 43 percent joining with others to raise an issue, and 11 percent joining a protest. Notably, only 14 percent had contacted a government or political party official during the previous year. Indeed, respondents in AfricaÕs new democracies complain of a wide gap between citizens and their political representatives. Among elected leaders, parliamentary representatives have the lowest performance rating when compared with local councilors and the national president.
Varieties of Political Participation
Mean for 12 countries
80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
71 47 43 11 14
Vote in last elections Attend a community meeting Join others to raise issue Join a protest Contact a govt or party official
11. People know that African democracies are fragile
Most Africans interviewed (71 percent) think that their own countries are democratic, at least to some degree. But nowhere does public opinion hold that a full democracy has been attained. Instead democracy is seen as having either minor problems (especially among Zambians) or major problems (especially in Nigeria). Africans therefore seem to recognize that much work remains to be done to turn fragile multiparty regimes into consolidated democracies.