MSU PLS professor discusses the US-Africa Leaders Summit in the Washington Post

December 12, 2022

Dr. Carolyn Logan published highlights from the new Afrobarometer R9 for the US-Africa Leaders Summit in the latest edition of the Monkeycage blog in the Washington Post. Dr. Logan is director of analysis for Afrobarometer and Associate Professor of Political Science.

What do Africans want? Afrobarometer surveys reveal the top concerns.

This week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will explore collaboration on economic engagement, democracy and climate change. Here’s how Africans see the challenges.

Analysis by Joseph Asunka, Carolyn Logan and Brian Howard
This coming week, President Biden will host leaders from across Africa for a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Amid widespread social, economic and political stresses, from the covid-19 pandemic to climate change to the war in Ukraine, those leaders may wish to consider ordinary African citizens’ experiences and expectations as they set the agenda and consider strategies and interventions for Africa’s most critical priorities.
Afrobarometer’s findings can help. We began our ninth round of surveys in October 2021, aiming to cover up to 40 African countries. Preliminary results from about 29,000 face-to-face interviews in the first 20 countries reveal several important messages for both African and U.S. leaders.

Africans’ top concerns are unemployment and government economic mismanagement
The pandemic has plunged many people around the world into unemployment and deeper poverty. As in previous surveys, unemployment remains the top policy priority for Africans, cited by 35 percent of respondents as one of up to three priorities for government action. But in a remarkable shift,the share of Africans who’ve mentioned “management of the economy” has shot up from 16 percent in 2019/2021 to 34 percent in this round — making it a virtual tie for top priority today.
Close to one in three African adults (30 percent) report covid-related loss of job or primary income source, with Kenyans (55 percent) and Ugandans (50 percent) faring worst. But the pandemic may only be exacerbating a longer-term trend of increasing poverty.
Since 2014/2015 we have seen substantial drops in the percentage of respondents reporting that they “never” went without necessities such as food (-14 percentage points), clean water (-13 points), and medical care (-15 points) during the previous year. The proportion of Africans whom Afrobarometer categorizes as experiencing “high lived poverty” has grown from 19 percent to 26 percent.
Governments get some of their worst performance ratings on these same issues. Across 20 countries, large majorities say their governments are doing badly at creating jobs (81 percent), managing the economy (74 percent), controlling inflation (88 percent), and improving the living standards of the poor (80 percent). The public wants revitalized macroeconomic management that invests in job creation and reduces hardship.
Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of citizens give their governments positive ratings for their response to the covid-19 pandemic. But the World Health Organization reports that just 27 percent of all Africans have been fully vaccinated.
Across the 20 countries surveyed by Afrobarometer, 52 percent of our adult respondents say they have received at least one covid-19 vaccination, and another 21 percent say they are at least “somewhat likely” to do so. But 27 percent — including more than half of Cameroonians and Gabonese — say they are unlikely to get vaccinated. Overwhelmingly, they say they don’t trust the vaccines. Just half (51 percent) trust their governments to ensure the vaccines’ safety. That concern could spill over into declining support for vaccines more generally. Rebuilding trust in government health information is thus vital to both emergency and everyday health management systems.
Citizens also want their countries to prepare for future health crises. Only 48 percent think their governments are well prepared, and a majority (56 percent) think governments should invest more health resources in such preparations, “even if that means fewer resources are available for other health services,” as you can see in the figure below.
Preparing for future pandemics | 20 countries | 2021/2022

Source: Afrobarometer.
Citizens who’ve heard of climate change see it as urgent
Among citizens who have heard of climate change, nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) say it is making life more difficult. Three-quarters (74 percent) want their governments to do more to limit climate change, “even if it is expensive or causes some job losses or other harm to our economy.” This includes majorities of those familiar with climate change in all 20 countries, as you can see in the figure below.
Here, too, citizens are willing to invest and engage. They see climate action as a responsibility shared among governments, ordinary citizens, the private sector, and transnational actors.
Popular support for government action to address climate change | 20 countries | 2021/2022
Africans want democracy and government accountability
Afrobarometer’s new findings confirm the continued desire of Africans to live under governments that are democratic, accountable and responsive.
Across 20 countries, solid majorities express a preference for democracy “over any other kind of government” (67 percent) and reject nondemocratic alternatives such as one-man rule (opposed by 81 percent) and one-party rule (79 percent). Clear majorities also endorse core democratic norms such as parliamentary oversight of the president (65 percent) and term limits (73 percent), agree that government accountability is even more important than effectiveness (62 percent) and support media freedom (67 percent), as you can see in the figure below.
Trends in selected democracy indicators | 18 countries | 2014-2022

Source: Afrobarometer.
But there's a warning sign. A smaller proportion now oppose military rule. While 67 percent still reject this option, that’s down from 75 percent in 2019/2021. What’s more, only 42 percent say militaries should never intervene in politics, while a slim majority (54 percent) are willing to countenance this option if elected leaders abuse power — a share that rises to 58 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds.
Meanwhile, Africans are getting less democracy than they want. More than six in 10 citizens (62 percent) think corruption has gotten worse in the past year. Across 18 countries tracked since 2014/2015, the proportion who say that “most” or “all” officials in the president’s office are corrupt has climbed from 35 percent to 41 percent. Africans also remain unimpressed by their governments’ efforts to curb corruption, with only 30 percent offering a positive assessment. And 75 percent believe they risk reprisals if they report corruption — which likely constrains their willingness to fight it.
Given that, it’s not surprising that just 37 percent declare themselves “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. Disappointment in democratic governance likely drives growing tolerance for military intervention and rule, especially among young adults. Leaders across the continent and world may wish to take note.
Joseph Asunka (@joeasunka) is chief executive officer of Afrobarometer.
Carolyn Logan (@carolynjlogan) is director of analysis for Afrobarometer and associate professor in the department of political science at Michigan State University.
Brian Howard (@twitBH1) is head of publications for Afrobarometer.