First of all, Happy Africa Day (yes, it is today, however underpublicised it may be). It was a good day for Afrobarometer to launch their Round 4 Results for surveys they have been conducting in 19 countries across the continent. I attended the Kampala release event today at the Serena Hotel, where Robert Sentamu of Wilksen Agencies delivered a presentation of the main findings, covering such topics as: democracy and regime consolidation, poverty reduction, globalization and cosmopolitanism, and the emergence of democratic citizens. Afrobarometer is a fantastic resource for scholars, journalists, civil society, political parties, and anyone else interested in public opinion, advocacy, policymaking, etc.
My one qualm with the findings of this release is that they paint a rather biased view of democracy and related issues in Africa. Why? Because Afrobarometer does not carry out surveys in countries where they have reason to suspect citizens will give "politically correct" answers for fear of repercussions by the state (i.e. Rwanda). This obviously leads to selection bias -- the countries where citizens are/feel "more free" to say what they really think are also probably more likely to be more democratic. Excluding those countries where citizens are not free probably paints an overly optimistic picture of democracy in Africa as a whole. Nevertheless, the findings of the release are very useful (particularly for each individual country) and quite intriguing.
So what are the key findings?
The 20 African countries included in the Afrobarometer include many of the most politically liberal countries on the continent, including 7 countries ranked by Freedom House in 2008 as "Free." However, when we assess the quality of these regimes based on popular attitudes and perceptions, we do not find any consolidated democracies among them (although Botswana comes close). In fact, we find some consolidating as autocracies, but most countries are best understood as unconsolidated, hybrid regimes. They exhibit some key elements of democracy, such as regular elections and protection of core individual freedoms. But either the popular demand for democracy, or the perceived supply of democracy, or, in most cases, both, fall short of the standards of full democracy. But the trajectories of individual countries are extremely diverse, with some exhibiting sharp declines away from democratic consolidation, while others are steadily advancing.
Even with the significant growth that sub-Saharan Africa has experienced over the past decade, as of 2008 lived poverty (or the extent to which people regularly go without basic necessities) is still extensive. It has declined in nine of the Afrobarometer countries for which we have over-time data during this period, but it has increased in another six. Cross-national differences in economic growth help explain differing country trajectories in lived poverty. But a more complete picture must also take political freedom into consideration. Lived poverty is strongly related to country-level measures of political freedom, and changes in poverty are related to changes in freedom. This finding supports Sen's (1999) argument about the crucial importance of freedom for development. Using our alternative measures of both development and democracy, we corroborate the findings of others that there is a "democracy advantage" for well being and prosperity.
See more findings and related articles/papers from the Afrobarometer website here.
Following the main presentation, Managing Editor of the Daily Monitor, Daniel Kalinaki, made a thoughtful and eloquent presentation on the Ugandan context (excerpt follows):
As we head towards the next election in 2011, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We can choose to continue the personality-driven winner-takes-it-all political model where we have an election and petition every five years and then let our MPs and other politicians sleep on the job as long as they wake up and vote for their parties. Alternatively, we can choose a bi-partisan approach that puts Uganda first, that allows free and open debate about our burning priorities and how to achieve them, and which puts power back in the hands of the people.
Asking the politicians to decide which model to adopt is, like an African saying goes, asking the monkey to decide whether the forest should be cut down. It is up to the people to demand this right to be heard and served. The Afrobarometer survey and others like it help provide a reality check for our countries and provide useful information that can be used by the media, civil society, and progressive political groups to empower the public.
At the end of the day, however, the responsibility falls on every individual to inform themselves and others, in order to build political awareness and a critical mass of interested and involved publics who can mobilise, organise, demand and receive what is fairly due to them.
You can read the complete version on Kalinaki's own blog.
Look out in the daily papers for more articles on the Afrobarometer surveys in the coming days...