Despite 'growth' rhetoric, Africans feel unmotivated, unloved and 'suffer' financially

ONLY 16% of sub-Saharan Africans feel like they are thriving in terms of supportive relationships or love in their lives

DESPITE the many indicators that African economies are growing, a new poll released by Gallup and Healthways says that Africans are predominantly struggling and suffering in terms of “well-being”. 

The poll includes the following five elements of well-being:

1. Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated
to achieve your goals

2. Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life

3. Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security

4. Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community

5. Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

This is a big step away from the century-old measurements of national performance that have focused on income indicators and social conditions that have measured and tracked objective metrics such as population size, life expectancy, and gross domestic product (GDP).

“Thriving” is one of the measurements the poll uses, defined as well-being that is strong and consistent. The other measurements are “struggling”; defined as well-being that is moderate or inconsistent in a particular element, and “suffering”; defined as well-being that is low and inconsistent in a particular element.

What Gallup and Healthways say they are offering an alternative perspective - that people can have low well-being and high income, and conversely high well-being and low income.

This is true in some cases - such as South Africa - but when looking at the continent as a whole it seems to go a step further in actually confirming that low well-being is in fact linked to low income and unemployment. 

The report even stated that “respondents living on less than $1.25 per day, those who have completed an elementary education or less, and those who work in the fishing or agriculture sector are least likely to be thriving in three or more elements of well-being, with a range between 10% and 11%.” 

This indicates that Africa as a whole is either struggling or suffering in all aspects of well-being, coming in below the global average for all scores. When looking at the 10 countries with the lowest well-being scores (% thriving), sub-Saharan countries featured heavily:

•Purpose well-being; Madagascar - 7, Tunisia - 8, Burkina Faso - 8

•Social well-being; Madagascar - 9, Uganda - 10, Chad - 11, South Africa - 11, Rwanda - 11

•Community well-being; DRC - 10, Zimbabwe - 11

•Physical well-being; South Africa - 11, Uganda - 13

North Africa, combined with the Middle East in this survey, is usually the region that pulls up African averages in reports on human development - but not in this case. Residents thriving in each of the five well-being elements trail the global percentages with the most noticeable gap seen in “purpose well-being” — at 13%, it is the lowest
percentage thriving for any of the five elements. The low ranking in “purpose” demonstrates that individuals in the region are not liking what they do each day and are feeling unmotivated to achieve their goals. The report attributes this to the region’s economic growth that has failed to keep pace with its rapidly expanding population, resulting in the highest regional unemployment rate in the world. 

The Egyptian case

A clear example of this was in Egypt where less than 20% of Egyptians are thriving in any element of well-being. Egyptians are least likely to be thriving in the purpose element, at 10%, compared with 13% of their regional counterparts. When asked about the state of their national economy in late June 2013, a record 80% of Egyptians described it as “getting worse”. Egyptians were also more likely than ever to say that their standard of living was getting worse, with an all-time high of 55%.

Though things are tough in the North, in sub-Saharan Africa it was worse. Despite relatively strong economic growth in many sub-Saharan African countries in recent years, more than half of the region’s population (56%) are not thriving in any of the five well-being elements. 

A meagre 9% of sub-Saharan Africans felt like they were thriving in managing their economic life, and only 15% were loving what they did each day.

No love

Only 16% felt like they are thriving in terms of having supportive relationships or love in they lives. The areas where they scored higher were related to liking where they live and having good physical health - when considering the indicators these are the ones which are least affected by factors from the outside and more a matter of personal perspective. This could therefore be attributed to instability, poverty, and widespread economic inequality. 

Sub-Saharan Africans are far more likely to be suffering in financial well-being (51%). An interesting factor is that this indicator  did not change much with rural/urban areas -  the difference between urban Africans (46% suffering) and those in rural areas (52%) is modest. This could perhaps be a reflection of high costs of living and lack of employment in cities. 

Unemployment in Kenya, South Africa

In Kenya employment had a clear impact on well-being in other areas. Employed Kenyans are about twice as likely to be thriving in community well-being as those who are not employed (20% vs. 11%), reflecting a relationship between community satisfaction and job opportunities. The type of employment was also a factor with significant differences between Kenyans in office jobs, 15% of whom are thriving, and those with non-office jobs, at 8% thriving.

Even though most of the Africa statistics reflected a correlation between income and employment it does not tell the whole story.  South African data reflected what the Gallup poll was trying to achieve; that well-being is not correlated to income and that the “well-being” of individuals can have a demonstrable impact on a country’s development. 

With 52%, South Africa has one of the worst youth-unemployment problems in the world of a middle income economy. More people are in fact being employed than before, but the unemployment rate has risen because the available labour force has grown more rapidly than the rate at which people have found employment. 

This however did not affect the financial well-being indicators as much as expected, with employed South Africans only somewhat more likely than those who are not employed to be thriving in financial well-being, at 17% vs. 10%, respectively. 

Among employed South Africans, just 15% are thriving in purpose well-being. The report explains that this indicates “that most of those with jobs are not emotionally invested in what they do each day.” This translates to “low morale and burnout are related to absenteeism”, which, according to Occupational Care South Africa,  costs companies more than $1 billion annually.

Even though the report does give recommendations to governments and non-governmental organisations on how to help improve the well-being indicators, it also focuses on employers. It makes recommendations to local, regional, and multinational corporations of all sizes to support their employee base, which will add value in return. For example this can be done through policies which reduce healthcare costs.


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