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Key findings
  • Across the 32 surveyed countries, the most frequently cited problems are unemployment, health, and education, although poverty and food shortage, taken together, are also a dominant concern.
  • But the most important problems vary by country: Water supply is the top problem in Guinea and Burkina Faso, while food shortage is the most frequently cited problem in Malawi, Mali, and Niger. In Kenya and Madagascar, crime and security top the list.
  • Poor citizens rank problems differently than their wealthier counterparts, emphasizing problems of basic survival (health, water, and food) and infrastructure and placing comparatively less emphasis on unemployment and crime/security.
  • When we turn to the somewhat narrower question of which of six specific sectors should be prioritized for greater investment of state resources, across the 32 countries, education and health care are citizens’ top priorities. Education is the top priority for additional government investment in three-fourths of all countries.
  • But investment priorities also vary by country. Agricultural development is the top priority in Malawi, Mali, and Burundi, while infrastructure heads the list in Lesotho. Security ranks as a higher priority in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tunisia than in other countries.

On 1 January 2016, the United Nations’ new development agenda will take effect. Titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” it extends and supplements the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at addressing social, economic, and environmental challenges facing citizens around the globe. The SDGs set high targets on a very broad range of issues: ending poverty, achieving food security, ensuring healthy lives, high-quality education, gender equality, sustainable water management, and affordable and reliable energy, among others – 17 goals in all, supported by 169 targets (UN, 2015).

Where to start? What to prioritize, amidst so many needs and ambitions? The UN notes that implementation will require “the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people,” taking into account “different national realities, capacities, and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities” (UN, 2015, pp. 2-3).

Thomas Bentley

Thomas Bentley previously served as a research assistant for Afrobarometer.

Markus Olapade

Markus Olapade is thdirector of the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy (IREEP) and a professor at the African School of Economics.

Pauline M. Wambua
Nora Charron

Nora Charron is a research assistant for Afrobarometer and an undergraduate student in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University