Election workers after Nigeria’s fraud-ridden voting in April. Sixty-seven percent of Nigerians polled said the vote had been conducted unfairly.

New York Times


Published: July 25, 2007 DAKAR, Senegal, July 24 — Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future and that of the next generation, according to a poll conducted in 10 sub-Saharan countries by The New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

The results offer an unusual and complex portrait of a continent in flux — a snapshot of 10 modern African states as they struggle to build accountable governments, manage violent conflict and turn their natural resources into wealth for the population.

It found that in the main, Africans are satisfied with their national governments, and a majority of respondents in 7 of the 10 countries said their economic situation was at least somewhat good. But many said they faced a wide array of difficult and sometimes life-threatening problems, from illegal drug trafficking to political corruption, from the lack of clean water to inadequate schools for their children, from ethnic and political violence to deadly disease. Face-to-face interviews were conducted in April and May with 8,471 adults in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

The survey sampled nationwide adult populations, except in South Africa, where the sample was completely urban, and Ivory Coast, where it was disproportionately urban and tended to be in areas sympathetic to the government. The margins of sampling error were plus or minus either three or four percentage points. The results showed that the struggle for democracy and good governing in Africa is more like a patchwork of gains and setbacks than a steady tide of progress across a continent that has suffered some of the worst instances of misrule. While all of the countries polled are nominally democracies, half of them have suffered serious rollbacks of multiparty representational government in recent years. A majority in each country said corrupt political leaders were a big problem. The most recent elections in Ethiopia and Uganda were marred by violence and the exclusion of major candidates, and failed to meet international standards of fairness; they were considerable setbacks for two countries that a decade ago were seen as rising examples of Africa’s democratic future. Electoral trouble has even tinged Senegal, often seen as a beacon in the volatile West African region because it has never had a coup and has a long tradition of democracy. This year, opposition parties boycotted legislative elections there over accusations of election fraud.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer, the poll results reflect frustration with the way elections are carried out — 67 percent of Nigerians said that their presidential election was not conducted fairly. Presidential and local elections in April were so badly marred by fraud and violence that the European Union called them not credible. Asked if they were generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things were going in their country, 87 percent of those interviewed for the survey said they were dissatisfied. Yet Nigerians were the most optimistic of all the nations surveyed — 69 percent said they expected that children growing up in Nigeria would be better off than people today. “It expresses a huge challenge for democracy in Africa,” said Peter M. Lewis, director of African Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an author of the Afrobarometer, a public opinion survey of African attitudes. “We have seen significant strides for democratic liberty and practices in the last 10 or 15 years. It is also a fact that in most of their countries, average citizens have not seen a significant improvement in their material circumstances and their living condition.” The economic data in the poll give a mixed picture. A plurality of respondents said that their financial situation had improved in the last five years, with the exception of Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Uganda. Many African economies are growing rapidly as prices for oil, iron ore, copper and timber have risen in recent years — overall gross domestic product growth in Africa last year was 5.7 percent and some countries, like Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, have seen much higher growth. But more resource wealth has not necessarily led to broad prosperity. Of the respondents in Nigeria, 82 percent said average people were not benefiting from the country’s oil wealth. Salimata Mbengue, a 21-year-old shopkeeper in Ngor, a village at the edge of Dakar, said that she had high hopes for the future of her business but was very worried about the current economic situation of her family. “I have five brothers, and only two are employed,” she said, sitting outside the small convenience store where she sells sodas, candy, biscuits and cartons of milk. “Our parents are retired, and we have to support them. I am hopeful, but it is very hard to get ahead here.” The spread of infectious diseases like AIDS is seen as a very big problem by a large majority of the respondents in every country polled. More than half of the 40 million people infected with H.I.V. live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations, and Africa accounted for 65 percent of new infections in 2006. Yet few respondents in all the countries polled said they had been tested for H.I.V., ranging from 4 percent in Ghana to 27 percent in Kenya and Ethiopia. Still, a considerable majority of respondents in each country were either willing to be tested, or already had been. Other health concerns weighed heavily on most respondents.

Getting access to clean drinking water was seen as a big problem for a majority in all 10 countries, ranging from 86 percent in Ethiopia to 58 percent in urban South Africa. About half or more in eight countries said that they had been unable to pay for medical care. But hunger seemed less of a problem — a majority of respondents in all but Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania said that they had enough money to buy food their family needed. Large majorities said poor-quality schools were a major problem, and many respondents said it was harder to provide an education for their children than to get food for them. The poll also measured African attitudes to the United States and found that on the whole, 8 of the 10 countries surveyed said they viewed it as a dependable ally. They showed little of the anti-American sentiment that has dominated polls of public opinion in recent years, but some countries had negative views of American culture — 82 percent of Tanzanians, two-thirds of Senegalese and about half of the Ghanaians, Malians and Kenyans surveyed.

Oumar Diallo, a 27-year-old unemployed plumber in Dakar, said that his Muslim faith made him uneasy with some aspects of American culture. “For us Muslims, we have certain values and ways of conducting ourselves that is different than America,” he said. “America is hard towards Muslims.”

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