IT HAS been a turbulent two weeks in the international arena – Greece finally capitulated to its creditors in what has been seen as an embarrassing defeat for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who agreed to what some economists say are even more punitive terms than his government had proudly rejected a few weeks ago, and got the country to do the same in a quickly-called referendum.
Under the new bailout package, Greece might even have to sell off some of its islands and ruins in order to take on 80 billion euros in additional loans to stave off bankruptcy over the next three years.
And US President Barack Obama proudly announced a landmark deal with Iran, which will see the lifting of international oil and economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s dramatically scaling back of its nuclear programme.
It’s the latest feather in the cap for Obama, who has probably had more big wins in the past three weeks than in the entire seven years of his presidency.
You might think that all this is distant and far-removed from every day African life – well, yes and no. A new survey by Pew Research Centre conducted in 40 countries around the world on their perceptions of international challenges – including nine African ones – reveal that Africans do have largely different (but global) concerns.
However, those in Africa losing sleep about things like Iran’s nuclear programme, global cyberattacks or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are not whom you might expect.
Overall, the majority (a median of 59%) of Africans say global climate change is the world’s top threat right now. Seven out of the nine countries surveyed named climate change as today’s biggest international threat, and in second place is global economic instability.
But as the Islamic militant group ISIS maintains its hold in Iraq and Syria and intensifies its grisly public executions, respondents in Middle East, Europe and North America most frequently cite ISIS as their main concern among international issues. By contrast, climate change is a minority concern those regions.
Climate change is particularly worrying in Burkina Faso (79%), Uganda (74%) Ghana (71%) and Nigeria (65%).
Ghana also leads the nine countries surveyed in identifying global economic instability as a top threat, with two-thirds of respondents saying it was a top issue in the world right now.
It’s not a surprise that Ghanaians would be nervous about the economy – this year, the country has been battered by economic storms, posting the slowest growth in 20 years as oil prices plunged in 2014 and a domestic energy crisis cut the electricity supply nationwide.
The Ghanaian cedi was Africa’s worst performing currency in 2014 against the dollar, though it has since regained some ground with the release of a $1 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund a few weeks ago.
But Tanzania leads the pack in worrying about ISIS – 51% of respondents say they are very concerned about the terror group, the highest response for that issue in Africa.
Intriguingly, Tanzania is also the country most concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme (51%), about global cyberattacks (37%), and – tied with Ghana – about Russia’s aggression (30%).
The “internationalism” of Tanzanian attitudes is at first unexpected, as the country is sometimes negatively portrayed as insular and paranoid about regional integration with its East African neighbours, nervous that it will get the short end of the stick if it fully opens its borders to the integration project.
But nervousness in the first place requires an awareness of the international issues, therefore there is much obsession among the Tanzanian elite in particular about the direction of global affairs.
It’s partly a legacy of founding president Julius Nyerere, a scholar-statesman who positioned Tanzania as a major player in African geopolitics and foreign policy.
When it comes to what respondents are least concerned about, South Africa is the African country least concerned about climate change and about global economic instability among the nine countries surveyed.
This is somewhat unexpected seeing that the country is facing its worst drought in two decades and is in the midst of a near-economic stagnation.
Burkina Faso on the other hand, is the least concerned about cyberattacks, Russia’s aggression, or China’s expansion among the country’s surveyed – the country’s concerns are focused much more on climate, with 79% saying it’s the world’s biggest challenge right now, the highest percentage returning that response in Africa.