Based on comparative analysis of original survey data from Ghana, Zambia and South Africa, this paper assesses the attitudes of African citizens towards democracy. Is democracy valued intrinsically (as an end in itself) or instrumentally (e.g., as a means to improving material living standards)? We find as much popular support for democracy in Africa as in other Third-Wave regions, but less satisfaction with the performance of elected governments. The fact that Africans support democracy while being discontented with its achievements implies a measure of intrinsic support that supercedes instrumental considerations. At the same time, approval of democracy remains performance-driven: but approval hinges less on the government’s capacity at delivering economic goods than its ability to guarantee basic political rights. Our findings extend recent arguments about the importance of political goods in regime consolidation and call into question the conventional wisdom that governments in new democracies legitimate themselves mainly through economic performance.
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