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Working paper

WP5: Democratic and market reforms in Africa: What ‘the people’ say

Michael Bratton and Robert Mattes 3 Apr 2000 Botswana, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe
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Africa is a latecomer to globalization.  In terms of timing, African countries have followed rather than led the reform movements that installed democratic and market systems around the world.  And, as foreign aid dependencies, African countries experienced considerable external pressure to liberalize.  One should not automatically conclude, however, that the impetus for reform originated from outside Africa rather than from within.

This chapter measures whether, and to what extent, mass popular constituencies exist for democratic and market reforms within selected African countries.i  If political and economic liberalization are Northern ideas that are being imposed on an unwilling South, then certain empirical facts should follow.

We would expect that most Africans would:

(a) be unaware of democracy and markets;

(b) have distinct cultural understandings of their meanings;

(c) be unsupportive of regimes based on democratic and market principles;

(d) prefer alternative political and economic regimes, and;

(e) be unsatisfied with what these regimes have delivered in practice.

Alternatively, if we find popular awareness of, support for, and satisfaction with recent reform initiatives in African countries, we can conclude that reforms have some sort of indigenous base.  It is important to know this because democracy and markets can contribute to the alleviation of Africa’s developmental problems only if they are embraced by African people themselves.

To measure public attitudes we employ an original set of data from a large-scale, crossnational survey research project (the Afrobarometer), which is designed to systematically map mass attitudes to democracy, markets and civil society in about a dozen African countries and, ultimately, to track the evolution of such attitudes in selected countries over time.  The present paper reports results from a first round of surveys implemented  between July 1999 and February 2000 in Botswana, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. Face-to-face interviews were conducted by trained interviewers in local languages with a total of 10,398 respondents using a questionnaire instrument that contained a core of common items.

Michael Bratton

Michael is a co-founder and board member at Afrobarometer

Robert Mattes

Robert Mattes is a professor of government and public policy at the University of Strathclyde and a co-founder of Afrobarometer.