Do Africans still want democracy?
More than half of all Africans today live in functioning multi-party electoral democracies that are demonstrably freer than the military or one-party regimes that previously dominated the continent. At the same time, the post-1990 gains that African countries registered in terms of civil liberties and political rights peaked in 2006, at least according to expert judgments offered by Freedom House.
Trends of this sort around the world have led some analysts to conclude that Africa is currently part of a global democratic recession In other words, multiple things may be true. That is, democracy may seem to be declining when measured with a near-term yardstick. At the same time, democracy may be alive and well, since the continent is still far more democratic than it used to be when viewed from a longer-term perspective.
With these mixed possibilities in mind, this report emphasizes what ordinary citizens in 36 African countries think. Do they desire a democratic form of government, or what we call demand for democracy? By tracking 16 African countries that have had been surveyed over more than a decade, Afrobarometer has previously demonstrated a steady rise in popular demand for democracy. Yet large proportions of Africans remain skeptical that they are being supplied with democracy by their current political leaders. Under these conditions, do Africans continue to consider democracy to be the best available form of government? Or have global trends questioning the desirability of democracy begun to diffuse within Africa?
- on average across the continent, Africans support democracy as a preferred type of political regime. Large majorities also reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorship, military rule, and one-party government. Smaller proportions agree on all four of these aspects of democratic preference, an index we call demand for democracy.
- large cross-national differences exist in demand for democracy. For example, while three in four respondents in Mauritius are consistent, committed democrats, fewer than one in 10 Mozambicans merit the same description
- demographically, demand is highest amongst those who live in urban settings, have a university education, and work in middle-class occupations. There is also an important gender gap, with women significantly less likely to demand democracy than men
- across 34 countries included in both of Afrobarometers two most recent rounds of surveys, popular demand for democracy increased in 10 countries, decreased in 14 countries, and remained essentially unchanged in 10 countries
- a for longer-term trends in 16 countries surveyed since 2002, a steady, decade-long upward trend in demand for democracy has ended with a downward turn since 2012
- the quality of elections helps to explain demand for democracy. African countries with high-quality elections are more likely to register increases in popular demand for democracy than countries with low-quality elections
- in a positive sign for the future of democracy, popular demand for democracy still exceeds citizen perceptions of the available supply of democracy in most African countries (26 out of 36 in 2015)