Survey finds that democracy is far from universal in Africa

A voter casts his ballot during elections in South Africa

File: A voter casts his ballot during elections in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG - Barely half of citizens in 28 African countries surveyed by Afrobarometer consider their country a “full democracy” or a “democracy with minor problems,” and less than half are satisfied with how their democracy is working, according to the research network.

In observance of International Day of Democracy on 15 September, Afrobarometer released a new analysis indicating that the extent to which African countries put democratic ideals into practice varies widely across countries.

It says that on average, citizens’ satisfaction with the quality of their democracy has declined since the previous survey round, although some countries have registered major improvements in satisfaction. Free and fair elections and freedoms of speech, association, and electoral choice are far from universal realities, according to survey respondents.

Key findings include:

  • On average across 28 countries, a slight majority (52%) of citizens perceive their country to be a full democracy (18%) or a democracy with only minor problems (34%). In 10 of the 28 countries, the more frequently expressed view is that the country is a democracy with major problems or not a democracy at all.
  • Compared to the previous round of surveys (Round 5, 2011-2013), satisfaction with democracy declined from 50% to 46% of citizens who say they are “very” or “fairly” satisfied. Satisfaction levels vary substantially across countries, from highs of 72% in Namibia and 68% in Botswana to lows of 26% in Togo and 11% in Madagascar.
  • Seven of 10 respondents say their most recent national elections were “completely free and fair” or “free and fair with minor problems.” About nine of 10 citizens in Mauritius (91%) and Senegal (87%) share this view, but only 46% of Ghanaians agree.
  • A bare majority (51%) of citizens say they are “completely free” to say what they think. Freedom of speech is perceived as most limited in Swaziland (where only 18% say they are completely free), Togo (26%), and Zimbabwe (27%). Citizens are somewhat more confident in their freedom of political association (61% completely free) and express relatively high confidence in their freedom to vote as they choose (73%).

 The full report can be found here.


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