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Working paper

WP87: Young and old in sub-Saharan Africa: Who are the real democrats?

Annie Barbra Chikwanha-Dzenga and Eldred V. Masunungure 4 Dec 2007 Benin, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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Key findings
  • There are more inter-generational similarities in political attitudes about democracy than there are differences.
  • The absence of a wide generational gap between the youth and their elders across the Afrobarometer countries confirms that there is an “anti-authoritarian” consensus; neither the young nor their elders express a preference for a non-democratic order.
  • But the youth are less satisfied with their countries’ democracy than their elders and even more pessimistic about the democratic future of their regimes.
  • The youth are more optimistic about economic affairs but more pessimistic in political affairs than their older folk.
  • Inter-generational assessments tend to converge with regard to evaluations of the country’s current economic circumstances and yet evaluations of individual living conditions differ significantly between the youth and the old.

The assumption of modernization theory has always been that the young would be among those at the forefront of movements for political liberalization. To what extent does this assumption hold true? Do the youth in Africa have a better understanding of – and are they more committed to – democracy than their more mature counterparts? Will the youth occupy the frontlines in defence of democracy, while the elderly acquiesce more willingly to the authoritarian impulses of leaders? This paper explores differences among these groups with respect to political attitudes and behaviours, evaluations of government performance, political participation and other factors that help us understand the orientation of diverse individuals toward their political systems. We devote special attention to the attitudes of African youth, and what they tell us about the vision younger Africans have of their political future, and their understanding of what “citizenship” means. The analysis reveals that differences between the two generations on political attitudes to democracy are minimal as both groups exhibit high levels of support for democracy. But major differences in political behaviour are particularly evident in voting and other forms of political participation, as well as in trust in key political institutions, where youth consistently lag behind their elders.

Annie Chikwanha-Dzenga

Annie Barbra Chikwanha-Dzenga is a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Administrative Studies in the University of Zimbabwe

Eldred Masunungure

Eldred V. Masunungure is the Director of the Harare-based Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI)