Africa: Free speech equals better governance, says report

The more freely Africans can speak their minds, the more confident they are in the performance of their governments, says a report.

The report, released in Nairobi by Afrobarometer, shows than half of Africans surveyed in 34 countries across the continent say they are “completely free” to say what they think, while another quarter say they are “somewhat free”.

Top of the free speech log are Malawi, where 79 percent say they have freedom of speech, followed by Tanzania (77 percent), Liberia (75 percent), Ghana (74 percent) and Tunisia (73 percent).

In the countries where people feel least free, only about one in four feel they have unrestricted opportunities to speak their minds. Bottom of the log are Sudan (19 percent), Togo (21 percent), Cote d’Ivoire (21 percent), Zimbabwe (22 percent) and Swaziland (24 percent).

Most of Africa’s biggest nations fall somewhere in the middle, with 34 percent of Nigerians, 52 percent of South Africans, 53 percent of Egyptians and 55 percent of Kenyans feeling completely free to speak.

The Afrobarometer report was written by Professor Winnie Mitullah, director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, and Paul Kamau, senior research fellow at the same institute.

In a news release issued with the report, Afrobarometer said: “Where people feel that they are free to say what they want, they also report that their leaders are more trustworthy and less corrupt than do their peers, the survey shows.

“Freedom of expression is also consistently linked to better ratings of government performance, especially with respect to government effectiveness in fighting corruption, but also in other sectors such as maintaining roads and managing the economy.”

Fifty-seven percent of Africans support “an unfettered right to publish”, the report says. This support is highest in East Africa, where 72 percent want press freedom, and lowest in West Africa, where the figure is 52 percent.

Afrobarometer adds that citizens rank their media highly for exposing government mistakes and corruption: “An average of 71 percent say the media in their country is either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very effective’.

“But this average masks wide differences, from 40 percent in Madagascar and 43 percent in Zimbabwe, to 80 percent or more among Malawians and Egyptians.

East Africans are much more likely (81 percent) to rate their media as effective watchdogs compared to all other regions.”

Afrobarometer is a research project coordinated by independent institutions in Ghana, Benin, Kenya and South Africa, with partners in 31 other countries.

It has been surveying public opinion in 12 countries since 1999, but has grown to include 35 countries for the period 2011 to 2013. It interviewed more than 51,000 people in 34 countries for the current survey.

Read the full report

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Read the report’s findings on people’s top choices of media

Read the report’s finding on the use of mobile phones and the internet

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