AfroBarometer: Democracy making a headway in Africa

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Sixty-two percent of Africans favour democracy, according to a survey by Afrobarometer, an independent polling institute that has focused on the perception of democratic trends on the continent since 1999. The results show sub-Saharan Africa’s development perception with respect to political systems.

So are Africans more favourable to democracy? According to a study conducted by Afrobarometer, African support for political regimes between 1999 and 2008 has risen to 72%. The figures, however, vary: in Botswana, 85% of the population supports democracy compared to only 39% in Madagascar. The first year of the study, 1999, was marked by 68% of the continent’s population being in favour of democracy, against 63% and 61% in 2002 and 2005, respectively. As for authoritarian regimes, 57% of Africans completely rejected the notion in 2008.

To conduct the survey, pollsters questioned 26 414 Africans in 19 countries [[South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cap Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia]] in 2008. The various questions to help analyse the extent to which participants support democracy showed that the 45% of them would like more democracy whilst completely rejecting other types of government systems. It is noted that in 1999 popular support for democracy was higher, probably due to transitional regimes. The high percentage of support declined thereafter, however, there is a marked increase in 2008. With regards to the present state of affairs, 41% of citizens surveyed believe their country is a democracy and are satisfied.

Before asking questions on what people want, Afrobarometer ensures that they are capable of defining the principle of democracy. 71% of respondents believe that a country is democratic when there is freedom of speech, several political parties and regular elections.

An independent Afrobarometer

Afrobarometer is an independent institution that was created at the Michigan State University, one of the founders of the project, and three African research institutions for democracy and economic development: the Center for Democracy and Development in Ghana (CDD – Ghana), the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) and the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics in Benin (IREEP- institut de recherche empirique en economie politique). They organize national surveys on “the quality of democracy and governance.” “Our goal is to collect reliable data and scientific information on public attitudes in countries where we work,” said Carolyn Logan, assistant professor at the University of Michigan. From a technical point of view, Afrobarometer functions as a polling institute: Investigators interview Africans from their homes based on a representative sample of the population. “Every adult citizen of a country could be selected,” said Carolyn Logan. To identify their positions, a questionnaire (with about 100 questions and statements) is made available.

For results to have the required impact, they must be widely disseminated, indicated Carolyn Logan. According to her, Afrobarometer hopes that their findings will contribute to public debate in the countries concerned and also develop policies and plans towards civic education. “The results are widely disseminated. Our goal is for the results to be used as much as possible. We target decision makers, opinion leaders, journalists, researchers and academics.”

Indeed, Afrobarometer’s results are used by various media entities, however, caution must be exercised as the perception of democracy is not easy to grasp due to the fact that many points are to be taken into account. Public opinion cannot be condensed into a mere percentage point.

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