What is Afrobarometer about and what are its objectives?
Afrobarometer is an independent pan-African research network that provides data on African citizens’ values, evaluations, and experiences. Indeed, Afrobarometer has become the global reference for high-quality data and analysis on African democracy, governance, economy, and society.
Afrobarometer’s principal objective is to give ordinary Africans a voice in policy making. Grounded in our vision that African societies thrive when African voices count in public policy and development, we have been scientifically and systematically capturing ordinary citizens’ experiences, evaluations, and perspectives and widely disseminating the findings to policy makers, policy advocates, civil society organizations, academics, news media, funders and investors, and ordinary Africans at the national, regional, continental, and global levels.
How many countries do you work in?
We have conducted surveys in 39 countries, across all regions of Africa. We do our fieldwork in survey “rounds” or cycles, which take about two years to complete. Most recently, despite a seven-month hiatus due to COVID-19, Round 8 surveys were completed in 34 countries between July 2019 and July 2021. Round 9 started in October 2021. Our findings represent the views and experiences of more than three-quarters of all Africans.
What areas do you focus on?
Our questionnaires include a large set of standard questions that we track over time, covering our signature topics – democracy and governance – and many others, including:
- Access to services and infrastructure
- Government and leadership performance
- Poverty and living conditions
- Political participation
In addition to these standard topics, in each round we include a number of special topics that capture African perspectives on emerging issues. Recent special topics have included:
- Climate change
- Media freedom and fake news
- China in Africa
- Safety and security
- Tolerance and social cohesion
- Election integrity
- Access to information
- Gender equality
Have the surveys impacted societies?
Afrobarometer findings are impacting African economies and societies in a number of critical ways. Among other things, our data and the analytical insights they generate have helped to:
- Make African economic and social development policy processes (policy making, policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation) more evidence-based.
- Create a basis for democratizing Africa’s economic and social development policy processes by reflecting the voices, preferences, and perspectives of ordinary citizens.
- Identify the scope of challenges such as climate change and corruption, and give governments the evidence they need to pinpoint problems and address them.
- Quantify gender disparities in education, access to technology, asset ownership, and decision-making power and other gaps that must be overcome to advance Africa’s development.
In addition, Afrobarometer’s capacity-building activities have helped to train a generation of young social scientists and policy advocates in data collection and analysis, as well as utilization and dissemination of the findings. These analysts and activists will continue to contribute to their countries’ development for decades to come.
Who uses the data? Can businesses use it?
Businesses use AB data as an independent, evidence-based check on indicators from other sources that they routinely use to inform their investment and related business decisions. For example, AB data can provide a “reality check” on official government statistics, which often describe inputs – such as government budgets and other technical resources deployed to address a problem – rather than outcomes, such as public access to or satisfaction with services.
AB data also provide a grassroots-based counterpoint to elite or expert opinion on issues such as the experience of corruption, the quality of services, or the extent of democracy.
One example is Afrobarometer’s Lived Poverty Index (LPI), which measures citizens’ actual experiences of deprivation of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care, which should be taken into account alongside higher-level macro-economic indicators. We also track not just access to public services such as electricity and clean water supply, but also the quality and reliability of those services.
Afrobarometer data are used in the generation of a number of global indices such as the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, and the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators. The data are also used for country risk analyses and by credit rating and forecasting agencies such as the Economist Intelligence Unit.
A wide range of stakeholders routinely use Afrobarometer data in policy planning, program development and implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. African national governments have used the data to inform presidents about citizens’ policy priorities, to underpin action from anti-corruption and human rights commissions, and within individual government ministries or agencies to track performance, inform policy, and monitor impact. At the regional and continental levels, users include the African Union, the African Development Bank, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Globally, users and stakeholders include many of Africa’s bilateral and multilateral development partners such as the United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the European Union, the World Bank, and many others.
How does Afrobarometer go about collecting data?
In each country, Afrobarometer has a National Partner, which may be a local think tank or civil society organization, an academic institute, or an independent research company. These partners are responsible for data collection, basic analysis, and dissemination of results in their respective countries, with guidance provided by our three Core Partners (essentially regional project management hubs) based in Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. All partners follow Afrobarometer standard methods and protocols and receive training and other support from our technical experts. Afrobarometer is known for its rigorous methodology, and our partners must meet our strict quality standards.
Conducting a survey involves:
- Generating a nationally representative sample of adult citizens, with a minimum size of 1,200 respondents (sometimes up to 2,400) appropriately distributed according to key demographic factors such as gender, urban-rural location, and region.
- Translating the questionnaire into local languages so that all respondents can be interviewed in a language they speak fluently.
- Providing extensive training to fieldworkers to familiarize them with the questionnaire and with appropriate fieldwork methodologies.
- Sending teams throughout the country to conduct face-to-face interviews in the language chosen by the respondent.
- Maintaining rigorous controls on data quality throughout the survey process.
Because our sample locations are randomly selected and distributed throughout each country, access to our survey respondents is almost never easy. But our partners go to the farthest corners of each country to collect the data. Sometimes this involves climbing mountains, crossing rivers and lakes, and dealing with state bureaucratic and security barriers. But over more than two decades, we have successfully completed more than 200 surveys with more than 330,000 individual respondents, and we are now launching our Round 9 surveys in up to 40 countries for our widest coverage ever.
What difficulties does Afrobarometer face?
Almost anything you can think of –
The logistics challenges are immense, including bad weather, flooding, rough terrain and bad roads, poor Internet connectivity or phone reception, and many others. Some of our fieldworkers have walked (or ridden on horseback) for many miles, built makeshift bridges, or endured long boat rides to reach remote locations.
COVID-19 required us to pause fieldwork for about seven months in 2020. And before that, the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak forced us to delay Round 6 fieldwork in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Unanticipated political events can also shake things up, as when an unexpected presidential transition occurred while we were in the middle of fieldwork.
Threats to the physical safety and security of our fieldworkers have sometimes compelled us to suspend fieldwork or modify our sample to avoid certain areas experiencing unrest, violent civil conflict, or insurgency.
In addition, some governments are more open and accepting of public opinion polling than others. In less receptive locations, our fieldwork teams sometimes fear reprisals from government or local authorities. Fieldworkers have occasionally been detained by local authorities, although we’re happy to report that we’ve never faced a truly serious problem of this sort.
At the same time, in some countries, especially those that are post-conflict or that have emerged from repressive rule, respondents themselves may tend to be suspicious of our interviewers’ motives, viewing them as possible government agents. This may make them afraid to answer politically sensitive questions for fear of reprisals. But we are careful to protect respondents’ confidentiality, and on the whole, we have found that the vast majority of our respondents are willing to share their views, both positive and negative, about their governments and their lives.
Indeed, we have found that respondents who say they feel unsafe voicing their opinions in public offer more critical evaluations of their government than those without such concerns, because they see our interviews as a safe way to send a message to the government.
It is also important to note that the challenges don’t necessarily end once we have the data. We sometimes encounter resistance on the part of government officials when it comes to accepting the results, especially when the findings are deemed unflattering or politically unfavorable. Governments sometimes question our methodology or accuse Afrobarometer of bias. However, we have built a reputation across the continent for both quality and independence, and we sometimes call on this when we need to convince officials of our commitment to producing high-quality, reliable, independent survey data.
Finally, of course, there is the constant challenge of funding. Sending interviewers long distances to conduct personal interviews of 1,200 respondents in each of 35 countries is an expensive proposition. While we have been fortunate to have unwavering support from some multilateral and bilateral funders as well as some private foundations, it is always a challenge to find enough funding to support this work.
What are the benefits to Africa’s development?
The most important benefits include the following:
- Afrobarometer has made public opinion a pillar of democracy in Africa. Before Afrobarometer, virtually nothing was known about the values, preferences, or knowledge of ordinary Africans. Instead, so-called experts, intellectual elites, media, opinion leaders, and politicians claimed to know what ordinary Africans thought, and to speak for them. Now, through Afrobarometer data, they speak for themselves.
- Afrobarometer has created a network of research organizations all over Africa that have competence in conducting surveys, analyzing data, and disseminating findings to media, policy makers and policy advocates, and other stakeholders. These organizations and their experts are, in turn, capable of conducting their own surveys for local firms and organizations to better understand their own societies.
- As an Africa-based and African-led enterprise, Afrobarometer has helped to decolonize the study of African societies, cultures, economies, and polities.
Is there a need for more research in Africa?
Yes, there is a need for more research on Africa, even though the amount of research has increased spectacularly over the past two decades, thanks in part to Afrobarometer.
But perhaps the biggest challenge or gap now is to make good use of the data that we have already collected and are continuing to collect. This requires that we continue to build the requisite African capacities and skills not just to proficiently collect data, but also to analyze the data and effectively inject findings into policy processes. Throughout its lifespan, Afrobarometer has invested heavily not just in data collection, but also in building analytical capacity. We have made a great deal of progress, but there is still much work to be done.
We also need to increase African policy actors’ awareness and appreciation of the importance of having independent, reliable, empirically grounded evidence, such as that provided by Afrobarometer, as an indispensable tool for effective policy making.