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Afrobarometer Network

Where is Africa going?
Views from below

Working Paper No. 60: A Compendium of Trends in Public Opinion in 12 African Countries, 1999-2006

Compilers: Michael Bratton and Wonbin Cho

The Afrobarometer Network

May 2006

SARPN acknowledges AfriMap as a source of this document:
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Where is Africa going? This compendium summarizes both continental trends and divergent country directions. It is based on three rounds of Afrobarometer public opinion surveys, 1999-2006. Among the many original results are the following: Even though Africans increasingly worry about unemployment and food insecurity, they are politically patient; they are not ready to reject democracy simply because it may fail at economic delivery. And even though Africans consistently consider the economic present to be worse then the economic past, they see better times ahead. Hope persists, perhaps propelled in part by the freedoms and opportunities provided by democracy.


Where is Africa Going?

Where is Africa going? One can hardly imagine a more important question for the freedom and well being of some of the world’s most underprivileged people. Yet rarely have the opinions of ordinary Africans – who experience the realities of daily life on the continent at first hand – been sought or heard. Instead, political leaders, the mass media, and the international donor community have usually shaped and controlled the ways in which Africa’s image and prospects are portrayed.

The optimists among such experts point to recent encouraging breakthroughs in democratic elections or to pockets of economic growth and recent peace settlements in Africa. The Afropessimists – more numerous in number – point to the survival of autocratic rule, ongoing ethnic strife, and the persistence – even deepening – of poverty. To a considerable extent, both camps are correct. Sub-Saharan Africa is hardly homogenous. Instead, its countries are embarked on divergent paths of political and economic development.

This publication seeks to modify the record by showing both common continental trends and instances where African countries are pulling in divergent directions. There is general evidence, for example, that hunger is seen to be spreading and that popular demand for democracy, while high, is falling. But, for every country that is making gains in terms of free and fair elections or increasing national income per capita, there are others that are moving away from these goals. And still other societies struggle simply to escape political or economic stasis.

Moreover, our viewpoint on Africa’s pathway is distinctive. We present a vision from below that features the opinions of everyday people. We summarize their attitudes by means of the Afrobarometer, a comparative series of public attitude surveys on democracy, markets, and civil society that now covers 18 African countries. As of today, the Afrobarometer is able to report trends in the public mood across 12 of these countries as it has settled or shifted from 1999 to 2006.

To our knowledge, directional trends in African public opinion have never before been measured on a comparable, multi-country basis. Researchers, journalists, and policy actors have never before possessed an empirical database of more than 56,000 interviews with African citizens spread over three moments in time. Together, the contents of this report paint an original and practical picture of popular views about Africa’s past, present and future.

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