Afrobarometer: Key Findings, Analysis and a Critique

Global Integrity

Yesterday in Washington, Johns Hopkins-SAIS sponsored a presentation by Afrobarometer announcing the results to the end of their fourth round of surveying. Here we offer key findings and thoughts on methodology.

Afrobarometer is an investigative project which conducts survey-based research in twenty African countries. These countries tend to be the most politically and economically liberal on the continent, with the notable exception of Zimbabwe. Hundreds of researchers in each country conduct face-to-face interviews with randomly selected citizens in their native language in order to gauge their perceptions on issues ranging from perceived supply and demand for democracy in country, as well as perceived levels of poverty and corruption.

The results…

The results of these surveys are then compiled and presented in a series of charts and graphs. Afrobarometer is commendable in the sheer scope of its interviews with Africans – 105,000 total since they began in 1999.

Using an array of perception-based surveys can lead to interesting insights. In Tanzania, the supply of perceived democracy is higher than the perceived demand. This is counterintuitive, though as a colleague of mine said, it perhaps shows that democratic institutions are being pushed along by international donors without any domestic movements propping it up.

This meshes with results of the Global Integrity Report: Tanzania, which showed a “very large” gap between (not so good) legal frameworks and (mostly bad) actual implementation of governance and anti-corruption. In other words, the formal structures sometimes exist but lacking citizen demand for results, they aren’t doing much useful. It’s a pattern we see in many aid recipient countries.

(It’s also a nice example of how perception-based tools like Afrobarometer and expert assessments like the Global Integrity Report can complement each other; the key is having disaggregated data, not just a single mashed-up “country score”. More on this here.)

Other results were more expected – Kenyans in 2008 were less optimistic about the democratic situation in their country; Zimbabwe and Madagascar had some of the lowest perceived supplies of democracy.

Definition issues…

One note of concern was an issue we’ve discussed on this blog – how do you measure democracy if you have trouble defining it?

In his post yesterday, Nathaniel cites Gerardo Munck, who is very critical of the way many institutions define democracy, most notably Freedom House’s Freedom in the World data. Afrobarometer does not offer a definition of what democracy means, even though a large part of their survey is intended to measure perceived levels of democracy.

The speaker, Corolyn Logan of Michigan State University, acknowledges that one question on the survey – “What, if anything, does ‘democracy’ mean to you?” garnered a huge variety of responses from participants. Afrobarameter deserves credit for an evidence-based approach to this instead of just picking a noncontroversial definition.

But what do we make of the questions “In your opinion how much of a democracy is Kenya today?” or “Overall, how satisfied are you with the way democracy works in Kenya?” if every person has a different definition of democracy?

It calls to mind anthropology work in the former USSR that showed that (paraphrasing recklessly) the term “corruption” was being used to mean “corruption” or “market capitalism” or “everything that has happened to me since 1990” depending on context. This issue isn’t new.

Further reading…

Global Integrity discusses the challenges of measurement in depth in our book, A Users’ Guide to Measuring Corruption.

For more on Afrobarometer, check out their website – – for charts and graphs.

Also of interest, a new briefing paper (No. 69) on the effects of improvements in media and telecommunications on democracy perception .

— Jessica Mahoney

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

3 comments on “Afrobarometer: Key Findings, Analysis and a Critique

  • Jessica Mahoney says:

    With regards to your point on Tanzania –
    The speaker did make the point that in countries with a long history of single-party rule, participants were less likely to be opposed to it. Her example was Uganda, but this surely is applicable to Tanzania as well.

  • Just a note on Tanzania specifically… The disconnect between the 'supply' of and 'demand' for democracy is only counter intuitive if, like me, you come from and espouse liberal democratic traditions. For many Tanzanians, this would not be counter intuitive and they, like your colleague, may point to the donor push. Actually, various surveys (possibly including afrobarometer, not sure and not looking it up) show a consistently high percentage (40s)of Tanzanians expressing preference for a one party system.

    Afrobarometer, while very useful can be a bit, eh, normative.


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