This happiness survey hints at which African countries, after Burkina Faso, could make 'Black Spring' headlines

More money in the pockets of the citizens may actually make for more ingratitude.

ECONOMIC indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), household income and unemployment data are heavily relied on by policy makers looking to evaluate the effectiveness of their prescriptions.

But a recent survey by a US research firm argues that these classic measures miss the point—that of gauging how people are really feeling. Why does it matter? The survey says leaders disregard this measure at their own risk: few say Egypt’s Arab Spring coming, but the data did: surveys had consistently showed that while personal incomes were rising, Egyptians, when asked if they felt they were thriving, were extremely dissatisfied.

Additionally, a survey of Burkinabes showed that just over half had confidence in their national government, the numbers were much lower than in previous years. 

The pollsters at Gallup however admit measuring people’s feelings is largely a grey area, and that there are still a lot of people who believe that these soft “happiness” surveys  have no place in policy. 

Notably though, some international organisations such as the United Nations and the OECD have been increasingly incorporating such metrics into their research.

The report’s data, which are modelled on individual evaluations such as of life, safety, food access and jobs, are culled from 137 countries surveyed last year, and brings up some surprising, and useful, information about African countries, and which may be used to suggest the next “Black Spring” hotspots:

The next ‘Black Spring’ countries? Unlikely candidates…

The indicator of law and order is used in the survey to gauge people’s sense of personal security, and their experiences with crime and law enforcement. High crime rates can surpress social cohesion, and hit economic growth.

According to the survey, Democratic Republic of Congo residents are the least likely to report feeling safe while walking alone at night. Only 27% are positive about their chances of having an incident-free journey home after dusk. This is in part due to the challenges of governance following years of internal and external conflict.

But the identity of the next three most jittery countries are surprising, depending from where you look at it. 

Zambia is renowned for its tranquility over the decades, but only 34% reported feeling safe at night in the city they currently live in.

In Botswana, a country that has among the highest per capita incomes in Africa, and a regular table-topper of various governance surveys, only 32% reported feeling safe in their residential city (in the October 24 election, the long-ruling party won but saw its share of Parliamentary reduced).

Even fewer South Africans—30%—reported feeling safe at night. High crime statistics from the continent’s richest country have over the years remained a major cause for concern for the Rainbow Nation, and the low score could be an indicator of this.

A more likely one…

The country where residents reported they were most likely to feel safe at night was in Rwanda, a popular target for pressure groups who feel President Paul Kagame affords too little space for alternative thought. Another contradiction.

Lots of resource cash, no food on the table…

The survey also asked respondents, in a measure of poverty prevalence, if there had been times over the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food. 

The leading African countries that had struggled for food were all resource rich—Niger (78%), Angola (77%), Guinea (76%), Liberia (73%) Sierra Leone (69%) and Zambia at 69%, with half of them being post-conflict. 

No African country made it into the top 10 of the opposite side of the survey question.

Corruption, now you see it, now you don’t…

Interestingly, of the top 10 “free” countries (according to Freedom House media ratings), that perceived corruption as widest spread in government, only one was African—Ghana, seen as a paragon of democracy in the region but where a significant 82% felt graft was all-pervading. 

But as media freedom status dipped to “Partly Free”, Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, came in, with 91% feeling corruption was widespread. Tanzania and Uganda also ranked highly.

In countries where the Press had the least freedom (‘Not Free’), Egypt, Cameroon and Guinea felt most strongly about corruption. However, only 9% of Rwandans felt graft was pervasive, despite perceived tight government control of the media.

No jobs, more Black Springs?

Gallup also found that people with “good” jobs—working full time for an employer—tended to rate their wellbeing higher, compared to any other category of respondents, including the self-employed.

By measuring the Payroll to Population rate—the percentage of the population that is employed full time—researchers were able to project countries with the most residents that did not feel all that well about themselves.

Nine of the 10 countries with the lowest payroll to population employment rates were all in Africa: Burkina Faso, which has just ousted its president, was lowest (5%), suggesting unemployment for  a country whose youth population nears 70% was a factor.

Niger, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Mali, Liberia, Guinea and Tanzania (9%) also made it onto this list, raising a red flag for leaders.

Well-being—a mixed bag…

The survey also sought to ask respondents a general question based on many current and future tiered elements—health, quality of life and productivity.

It then classified respondents as either “thriving”, “struggling” or “suffering”. The result was that life evaluations are highly correlated to income, education level, and health.

No African country was in the top ten of countries surveyed that described themselves as thriving, a list dominated by Scandinavia.

But all bar two of those that felt least thriving were African. Notably, Rwanda ranked here, with only 2% feeling they were thriving. 

Brain Gain, and Drain

Researchers also asked respondents if they were likely to move away from the city in the next year, potentially benefiting another country’s economy. 

The poll showed a “clear relationship” between good jobs and people’s attachment to their communities—they were less likely to move if they were employed full time.

Six of the 10 countries where residents were most likely to move away in the next year were African, led by Sierra Leone where 41% indicated mobility. Botswana, Cameroon (both 32%), and Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana (all 31%) also featured in this list.

Leadership perception depends on which country you ask…

Finally, a measure of the overall job performance of the country’s leadership also showed differences, depending on how “free” they were as measured by the media’s expression, and consequently how free citizens are to say what they think of the leadership.

No African country made it into the “free” category, but of those in the “partly free” band, Botswana, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso had the highest approval ratings, meaning Blaise Compaore single-handedly authored his own downfall. 

For the ‘Not Free” countries, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Tanzania had the highest approval of their leadership, while Egypt and DRC had no such sentiments. Gallup did note that this was a sensitive question, and responses often mirrored “residents reluctance to criticise the government”.


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