Published: May 22, 2009

Democracy spreading in Africa despite challenges, survey finds

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949, Carolyn Logan Political Science office: (517) 432-0214

EAST LANSING, Mich. – More Africans want democracy — and more think they’re getting it, according to an influential survey co-founded by Michigan State University.

But the latest findings from the Afrobarometer also show the number of African citizens fully committed to a democratic government remains less than 50 percent and that demand for democracy still varies widely among African nations.

The findings, from public attitude surveys conducted in 19 countries in 2008, were released today in advance of Africa Day on May 25.

“It’s encouraging to see that, on average, both the popular demand for and the perceived supply of democracy are increasing in Africa according to public perceptions,” said Carolyn Logan, MSU assistant professor of political science and deputy director of the Afrobarometer. “However, overall levels are still low, and when we start looking country-by-country, we see that there is an enormous amount of diversity.”

The Afrobarometer was launched by MSU and its African partners in 1999 to gauge the social, political and economic atmosphere in Africa every three years and to add the voice of ordinary Africans into debates about democracy, governance and public policy. The current data represents the fourth round of results. In all, 20 countries have been surveyed at least once, with 11 being surveyed all four rounds.

On average across those 11 countries, the demand for democracy reached 47 percent in 2008 – up from 37 percent in 2005 and the highest level in project history. To meet the definition of demand, citizens must not only say they support democracy but also that they reject authoritarian rule.

While the reasons for the upsurge remain unclear, Logan’s colleague Michael Bratton, MSU Distinguished Professor and co-founder of the project, said it is likely due to political reforms taking root. After three or four rounds of competitive elections — including several cases of ruling parties being voted out of power — citizens are gaining confidence that they have an institutional right to choose their leaders, he said.

Across the 19 countries surveyed in 2008, the percentage of citizens who said they support democracy (without reference to authoritarian rule) reached 70 percent.  The more stringent index of demand for democracy, however, ranges from just 18 percent among the citizens in Burkina Faso to 71 percent in Zambia and averages just 45 percent.

When it comes to actually getting a democratic government — defined as the supply of democracy — 46 percent of citizens in the 11 countries answered favorably in 2008, indicating both that they think their countries are democratic and that they are satisfied with how democracy works. That’s up from 40 percent in 2005 and 39 percent in 2002. Supply was also 46 percent in the initial 1999 survey.

Like demand, supply of democracy varies significantly across the countries, from just 14 percent in Madagascar to 80 percent in Botswana, according to the 2008 survey of 19 countries.

Logan said many of the countries surveyed continue to have “hybrid regimes” – displaying elements of both democracy and autocracy. They also are unconsolidated.

“Most of them still haven’t achieved a sustained balance between demand and supply,” Logan said, “and this imbalance is a potential support of instability.”

All data is collected via face-to-face interviews by trained fieldworkers in the language of the respondent’s choice. For the 2008 survey, 26,414 interviews were conducted. Zimbabwe, last surveyed in 2005, was not surveyed in 2008 due to state-sponsored violence.

MSU was a founding partner of the Afrobarometer and now serves as a support unit to the project under the original plan to turn the program over to African institutions. Currently there are three core partners, all based in Africa: the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development and the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy in Benin.

Funding for the latest round of surveys comes from the Canadian International Development Agency, the U.K. Department for International Development, the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

For more on MSU in Africa, visit here.


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