By Michael Bratton, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University and senior adviser to Afrobarometer, and E. Gyimah-Boadi, Executive Director of Afrobarometer and the Ghana Center for Democratic Development
Beyond the limelight and the headlines, the recent Group of 20 (G20) summit accomplished an important piece of business by launching the Compact with Africa. The next step is crucial: negotiating the priorities that the compact will address.
One key concept is that the compact is with – rather than for – Africa, implying that it will rely on true partnerships to pursue mutually agreed-upon goals.
With its contribution to a “20 Solutions” document presented to the G20 by a consortium of think tanks, the pan-African research network Afrobarometer is working to ensure that the compact will take into account what ordinary Africans say they want and need.
Based on public-attitude surveys in 36 African countries, our data suggest that:
Millions of Africans experience “lived poverty,” or shortages of life’s basic necessities. In 2014/2015, substantial proportions of survey respondents say they went without a cash income (74%), necessary medical care (49%), enough clean water (46%), enough food (46%) and/or enough cooking fuel (38%) at least once during the previous year.
Encouragingly, levels of lived poverty in Africa are in decline. Between our 2011 and 2015 surveys, our Lived Poverty Index (LPI or an average score on these five basic necessities) was down in 22 of the 33 countries included in both surveys.
Surprisingly, we found no relationship between average annual GDP growth rates and declines in the LPI, suggesting that something other than recent macroeconomic growth in many African countries must be at work.
Instead, our data point to the importance of basic development infrastructure: Lived poverty tends to decrease in countries that make progress in paving roads and installing sewage systems. In Kenya and Tanzania, for example, a 33% increase over the past decade in the number of localities with these facilities is associated with a 6% decrease in their LPI scores.
But the delivery of basic service infrastructure remains a challenge. Only about two-thirds of Africans live in communities with an electric grid (65%) or piped water (63%). While almost all reside in areas with cell phone service (93%), only about half (54%) enjoy close-by access to paved roads.
When Africans are asked what they consider “the most important problems” their governments should address, the top priority is unemployment, followed by health, education and infrastructure (especially roads but also water supply and electricity) (Figure 1).
Priorities depend in part on where respondents live. In countries where a majority of the population resides in towns, 51% cite unemployment as a priority problem, and only 6% prioritise food security. But in countries that remain predominantly rural, only 32% list unemployment, while almost one in five persons (18%) say that ensuring food security remains a pressing development need.
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