Africans more likely to resent the powerful rich, study finds, and how dictators can rig the system

Even in this continent, the adage "it's the economy, stupid!" holds up quite well, but there is a cheat sheet of sorts for the typical Big Man.

A NEW survey finds that sub-Saharan Africans are more likely than most to say the wealthy are too powerful politically, coming only second to Latin Americans who express the highest discontent with the influence of the rich on national affairs.

The Pew Research Centre poll says that by a median of 68%, sub-Saharan Africans felt the clout held by the rich was skewed, with Senegalese (78%) and Ugandans (75%) having the highest discontent of the countries surveyed. 

Interestingly, of the countries sampled, South Africans were least likely to feel the same way about the rich, despite the inequalities and unemployment that informs regular service protests. On the flip side, it should not really be a surprise—the country’s political institutions still bear the sheen of the golden Mandela years, even if fading as evidenced by the  chaos at Thursday’s State of the Nation address in parliament.

Kenyans by a median of 70%, and Ghanians and Nigerians (both at 78%) were also found to have the same worry about the grip the elite rich have on the internal affairs of their countries. 

Africans are the most likely after Latin Americans to feel unhappy over the mixture of wealth and politics. Orange represents discontent. Source, Pew Research

Of the five regions surveyed,  Latin Americans harboured the most angst towards the rich, by an average median of 74%, with up to eight-in-ten of Colombians, Peruvians and Brazilians disgruntled.

The findings also appear to make a case for Communist systems—China (38%) and Vietnam (37%) had the least concern of the hold of the rich on national systems. This would also seemingly inform the second-lowest overall media score for Tanzania, which has in the past dabbled with socialist politics.

The distribution of wealth also finds a home in the levels of political satisfaction by surveyed sub-Saharan Africans.

Pew Centre findings hold that happiness with a country’s political system is closely tied to views of the prevailing national economic conditions.

Countries where people say the economy is doing poorly are more likely to be unhappy with the current political system, with a correlation of 0.8, where 1 is  a perfect score.

Correspondingly, Ghana, which has had a turbulent year economically, had the most dissatisfied respondents, with 65% unhappy with how the political system was working.

Nigerians, who hold a vote in five weeks, were also grumpy, with 60% of those polled responding in the negative. The country has among other factors seen its currency slide, while the plunge in oil prices has made matters worse given the commodity accounts for the majority of its foreign exchange earnings.

The most satisfied with the political systems were Tanzanians, with two-thirds (67%) happy with the status quo.

Green represents happiness. Source, Pew Research

Surprisingly, Ugandans were next most-positive with the state of the national political system, despite having known only one leader since 1986. Some 63% of Ugandans gave their current system the thumbs up, according to the survey.

The East African country’s economy is expected to grow by 6.2% this financial year, with growth having averaged 6% since 2005. This would appear to support the initial survey findings, and also that full stomachs are not as concerned with leader turnover.

However, there is a caveat—economic growth tumbled from a 10.8% in 2006 to 3.4% in 2012, before rallying to 6% in the year after.

The start of that cycle coincided with president Yoweri Museveni’s re-election in 2006 with a 60% vote majority, despite a stiff challenge from Kizza Besigye who snatched 37% of the ballot.

The next election in 2011 should have meant Museveni’s support declined in tandem with the economy. This did not happen—the incumbent actually raised his take of the vote to 68%.

The theory is that growth did not become negative, it only decreased while still remaining in positive territory. This would, unscientifically, suggest Africans are likely to forgive you for overstaying in power if the memory of the time of the great feast has not faded too much.

Kenyans and Senegalese were most evenly split about the national political system, but they are both in the middle of their election cycles and could still be making up their minds as to its effectiveness.

The case of South Africa is again curious—a recent poll found its citizens to be the most miserable Africans, on the basis of widespread unemployment. Yet 54% of South Africans, according to Pew Research, are satisfied with the political system, while 40% hold the dissenting view.

The “misery index” was conducted by American libertarian think tank Cato Institute, while the Pew Centre is non-partisan. As renowned American political commentator Dennis Prager said about left-right polls, the farther left one goes, as South Africa has tended to be, the less happy the person is likely to be found to be.

Globally, discontent was most widespread in the Middle East and Latin America.


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