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Chapter 4
Valerie Møller, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.
[email protected]
Benjamin J. Roberts, Co-ordinator: South African Social Attitudes Survey and Senior Research Manager:
Democracy, Governance & Service Delivery, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa.
[email protected]
Habib Tiliouine, Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences,
University of Oran, Algeria.
[email protected]
Jay Loschky, Regional Director Africa, Gallup.
[email protected]
We thank John Helliwell and Haifang Huang for providing Figure 4.2 that shows the latest 2014-16 happiness evaluations in
Africa and useful comments on this chapter. Support from South Africa’s National Research Foundation is gratefully acknowledged
(NRF unique grant 66960). Views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the NRF or others.
Are the people in Africa really among the least
happy in the world? And if African countries do
have a ‘happiness deficit’, what are the prospects
of Africa achieving happiness in the near future?
These are questions we shall try to address in
this chapter.
The World Happiness Report (WHR), published
since 2012, has found that happiness is less
evident in Africa than in other regions of the
world. It reports Gallup World Poll (GWP)
ratings of happiness, measured on the ‘ladder of
life’, a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 indicating greatest
happiness. On the map of the Geography of
Happiness, published in an earlier World Happiness Report Update 2015, the happiest countries
in the world are shaded green, the unhappiest red.
Africa stands out as the unhappiest continent,
being coloured almost entirely in shades of
glaring red (See Fig. 4.1).
In 2017, the WHR reports that average ladder
scores for over four in five African countries are
below the mid-point of the scale (see Fig. 4.2).
And only two African countries have made
significant gains in happiness over the past
decade2. There are also considerable inequalities
in life evaluations in African countries, and this
inequality in happiness has increased over the
past years3.
In this chapter, we shall tentatively seek a number
of explanations for the unhappiness on the
African continent, which is home to about 16%
of the world’s population. It will be no easy
task to identify factors that may have shaped
perceptions of well-being among the 1.2 billion
African people who live in 54 nation states
with different historical, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds. Nonetheless, we shall
attempt to describe some of the positive and
negative experiences in the lives of people in
African countries that likely impact on personal
Figure 4.1 Geography of Happiness
Source: Helliwell, Huang, & Wang (2015, p. 20)
Figure 4.2: Ranking of Happiness in Africa, 2014-16
Figure 13: Ranking of Happiness in Africa: 2014-16
1. Algeria(6.355)
2. Mauritius(5.629)
3. Libya(5.615)
4. Morocco(5.235)
5. Somalia(5.151)
6. Nigeria(5.074)
7. South Africa(4.829)
8. Tunisia(4.805)
9. Egypt(4.735)
10. Sierra Leone(4.709)
11. Cameroon(4.695)
12. Namibia(4.574)
13. Kenya(4.553)
14. Mozambique(4.550)
15. Senegal(4.535)
16. Zambia(4.514)
17. Gabon(4.465)
18. Ethiopia(4.460)
19. Mauritania(4.292)
20. Congo (Brazzaville)(4.291)
21. Congo (Kinshasa)(4.280)
22. Mali(4.190)
23. Ivory Coast(4.180)
24. Sudan(4.139)
25. Ghana(4.120)
26. Burkina Faso(4.032)
27. Niger(4.028)
28. Uganda(4.004)
29. Malawi(3.970)
30. Chad(3.936)
31. Zimbabwe(3.875)
32. Lesotho(3.808)
33. Angola(3.795)
34. Botswana(3.766)
35. Benin(3.657)
36. Madagascar(3.644)
37. South Sudan(3.591)
38. Liberia(3.533)
39. Guinea(3.507)
40. Togo(3.495)
41. Rwanda(3.471)
42. Tanzania(3.349)
43. Burundi(2.905)
44. Central African Republic(2.693)
Explained by: GDP per capita
Explained by: social support
Explained by: healthy life expectancy
Explained by: freedom to make life choices
Explained by: generosity
Explained by: perceptions of corruption
Dystopia (1.85) + residual
95% confidence interval
Source: Gallup World Poll
well-being. We shall also try to identify the
prospects for change and development that
could spell hope for increasing the happiness of
African people in future.
The ‘patchwork of countries that make up Africa’4
Africa includes 54 countries, the largest number
of nation states on a single continent. Forty-seven of the 166 countries in the Gallup World Poll,
about a quarter, are African countries. South
Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011
following Africa’s longest civil war, is now
included in the poll. The GWP has also collected
data in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, in the
small island state of Comoros, and in both
Somalia and Somaliland, although the latter
region is not officially recognised as an independent state but considered a part of Somalia5. The
2017 World Happiness Report tracks the happiness of 44 African countries polled by Gallup,
including the island states of Mauritius and
Madagascar located off the east coast of Africa
(see Fig. 4.36).
At the outset, it will be important to remember
that Africa is the continent with the longest
history of humankind. We all have ancestors on
the continent. Given the length of time that
Homo sapiens have dwelt in Africa, it is also
the continent with the greatest cultural diversity
and a wealth of ancient civilisations. There are a
multitude of different ethnicities and languages
spoken in Africa. The continent extends from the
Mediterranean Sea in the north to the meeting of
the Indian and Atlantic Oceans in the south, and
from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Suez
Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Climatic
regions range from temperate coastal regions,
deserts and semi-deserts, bushland and savannah,
to tropical jungles over the equator.
Africa’s turbulent history has produced an
extremely diverse cultural and linguistic landscape. Centuries of slavery, colonialism and
apartheid preceded the period of independence.
During the turbulent years following the ‘first
dance of freedom’7 in the 1960s, the new African
nation states experimented briefly with various
styles of self-rule in what has been called the
‘third wave’ of democracy8. The expansion of the
Arabian Islamic Caliphate into North Africa in
the 7th century and the European ‘scramble for
Africa’ in the late 19th century introduced several
of the European and Arabic languages that still
serve as lingua franca and national languages on
the continent. Over the centuries, African people
have adopted some of the customs, technological
advancements and new lifestyles of their former
colonial masters. In recent times, Africa has
leapfrogged older technology to embrace the
latest advancements, such as mobile phones and
solar-powered electricity.
This tumultuous history will have left its imprint
on expectations and perceptions of personal
well-being.9 Given the diversity found on the
continent, it is natural to expect, as is shown in
Figure 4.2, that there will be large differences
among African countries in both life evaluations
and likely reasons for these differences. Africa
watchers frequently note how different the
situations are from one African country to the
next. Contrary to the once commonly held view
that Africa is a single entity or ‘brand’, each
country in fact has unique features that distinguish it from its neighbours.10 For this reason,
there is likely to be a multitude of explanations
for Africa’s ‘happiness deficit’. In this chapter
we can only begin to search for plausible factors
that may have undermined Africa’s potential for
happiness and satisfaction with life.
The quality of life of African people can be
observed from a number of different perspectives.
There have been many frames of reference for
the narrative of Africa since independence
ranging from the dismissive ‘basket case’ to the
‘structural adjustment’ imposed by the International Monetary Fund during the 1980s followed
by debt forgiveness in the 1990s. The ‘Africa
Rising’ narrative in the new millennium was
followed by the global economic recession; and
lately Africa has become part of the so-called
Figure 4.3: Map of Africa with Average Happiness Scores
Western Sahara
Cape Verde
Central African
Sierra Leone
Equatorial Guinea
Sao Tome & Principe
of the Congo
Republic of
the Congo
Average happiness score
no data
South Africa
Source: Gallup World Poll data
‘war on terror’. Each of these narratives homes in
on a different set of factors that may determine
the fortunes of Africa and its people.11
Twenty-first century Africa is no longer associated
only with ‘endless famine, disease, and dictatorship’. The ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, which
overturned earlier stereotypes, projected a
continent with a growing urban middle class
market with new consumer appetites.12 Africa’s
youthfulness promised to be an asset in an
increasingly ageing global society. The continent’s
rich mineral wealth had not been exhausted
and its agricultural land was still waiting to be
exploited. In the new millennium, foreign direct
investment in Africa eclipsed development aid
for the first time since the colonial era.13
Outline of this chapter
We start our examination by first reflecting on
the paucity of data on African happiness. We
then discuss local reactions of disbelief to some
other polls that have found African countries to
be among the happiest, in contrast to the Gallup
World Poll findings reported above. We next
consider whether Africa’s happiness deficit since
independence14 may in fact be a long-standing
one, in which case, it may take more time to
remedy. Then we examine how changes in the
lives of African people under democratic rule
have affected quality of life on the continent.
In particular, we review how aspects of good
governance have affected the well-being of
citizens. Finally, we consider how African people
have managed to live with their ‘happiness
deficit’ in anticipation of the good life.
Data for Africa
The GWP data on happiness for Africa is a
valuable source of information on happiness in
developing countries in Africa and serves as our
point of departure. (See Technical Box 1: Gallup
methodology in Africa). However, a major
challenge for us when reflecting on Africa’s
well-being has been sourcing further data in
support of our arguments. Our chapter will
focus on all countries in Africa—unlike studies
that divide Africa into sub-Saharan Africa and
North Africa, or the extended region of MENA
(Middle East and North Africa). While data
coverage for Africa has improved over the past
decades, there is still a dearth of social indicators
that cover the whole of the continent. In particular, there is a shortage of trend data that would
help us track the relationship between happiness
and the factors that we think might have influenced happiness over time.15
We have opted for a practical solution. Where
possible we draw on Africa’s home-grown data.
A useful source for our purpose is the Afrobarometer, which collects subjective indicators that
give voice to ordinary citizens on the continent.16
Other home-grown initiatives that provided
useful pointers for our examination are the
Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)17
that covers all 54 countries on the continent
based mainly on objective indicators, and the
Arab Barometer, launched in 2005, which covers
countries in North Africa and the Middle East.18
Do Gallup Happiness Ratings Ring
True in Africa?
Before we consider what may be holding back
African happiness, it will be important to know
whether WHR reports on life evaluations in
African countries ring true to people living on
the continent. Measures of subjective well-being,
other than Gallup World Poll ones, have, on
occasion, ranked African countries such as
Ghana and Nigeria among the happiest in the
world. In these cases, it seems that local reactions
to media reports on such high happiness rankings were mixed. In the Ghanaian case, political
leaders reportedly took credit for promoting the
well-being in their country, while their citizens
tended to doubt that the scores were credible,
and debated their validity. Similarly, Nigerian
scholars referred to a ‘Nigerian paradox’ when
their country achieved less than credible very
high happiness rankings in international studies.
When Ghanaians heard that their country
ranked among the ten happiest countries in the
world in a news story circulating on the internet
in 2006, there was excitement but also mainly
disbelief. In her contribution to a handbook
on happiness across cultures, Vivian Afi Abui
Dzokoto recalls that the rating was received with
mixed feelings of pride and disbelief that triggered
debate on what ‘really mattered’ for well-being
in Ghana. ‘Did this statistic take into consideration
the state of life in the country: the unemployment rates, traffic, state of roads, and the price
of gasoline? Was it because Ghana was a very
religious country? Or was it family values
Technical Box 1: Gallup Methodology in Africa
Introduced in 2005, the Gallup World Poll is
conducted in approximately 140 countries every
year worldwide, including 40 in Africa, tracking
attitudes toward law and order, institutions and
infrastructure, jobs, well-being, and other topics.
Gallup surveys approximately 1,000 residents
per country, targeting the entire civilian, non-institutionalized population, aged 15 and older. In
2016, face-to-face surveys were used in all of
Sub-Saharan Africa and most of North Africa.
In Libya, telephone survey methodology has
been used since 2015 owing to the country’s
high rate of mobile phone coverage and ongoing instability which has made it too dangerous
to use face-to-face interviewers.
In countries where face-to-face surveys are conducted in Africa, the first stage of sampling is
the identification of 100 to 125 ultimate clusters
(sampling units), consisting of clusters of
households. Sampling units are stratified by
population size and geography and clustering is
achieved through one or more stages of sampling. Where population information is available, sample selection is based on probabilities
proportional to size (PPS) sampling, otherwise
simple random sampling is used. Samples are
drawn independent of any samples drawn for
surveys conducted in previous years. In most
African countries, national coverage is at or
near 100%. However, national coverage is lower
in countries such as Nigeria (96%), Somalia
(68%), and South Sudan (56%) where insecurity
makes interviewing dangerous in specific
regions or neighbourhoods.
Data weighting is used to ensure a nationally
representative sample for each country and is
intended to be used for calculations within a
country. First, base sampling weights are constructed to account for household size. Weighting by household size (number of residents
aged 15 and older) is used to adjust for the probability of selection, as residents in large house-
holds will have a disproportionately lower probability of being selected for the sample. Second,
post-stratification weights are constructed.
Population statistics are used to weight the data
by gender, age, and, where reliable data are
available, education. At country level in Africa,
each survey carries a margin of sampling error
ranging from a low of ±2.6 percentage points to
a high of ±5.4 percentage points.
The Gallup World Poll is translated into 85 languages throughout Africa and attempts are
made to conduct interviews in the language the
respondent speaks most comfortably. When at
least 5% of a national population considers a
language to be their most comfortable language,
a new language is added to the survey.
Where necessary, Gallup seeks the permissions
of national, regional, and local governments. In
many African locations, permission from Chiefs
and Elders must also be sought in order to gain
access to rural areas or villages. In Somalia,
permission is obtained not only from authorities
in Somaliland, Puntland, and the Central
Government in Mogadishu, but also from
so-called “emerging states” such as Jubbaland
Administration and South-West State.
Following 4-5 day training courses in capital
cities, interviewers are sent across the country
to reach ultimate clusters. While public transportation is used in many cases, it is often
necessary in some regions to rent 4×4’s owing
to poor infrastructure and the remoteness of
many sampling areas. In South Sudan, all
interviewers not working in Juba must be
flown to provincial towns immediately following
training as road networks make travel exceedingly difficult. While at least 30% of interviews
are accompanied in-person or back-checked by
supervisors in all countries, data is also monitored remotely throughout fieldwork by quality
control personnel utilising GPS data and interviewer productivity metrics.
or the tropical climate?’19
In the case of the Nigerian happiness ‘paradox’,
Aaron Agbo and his colleagues, writing in the
same handbook on cross-cultural happiness,
thought that respondents who indicated that
they felt happy might not have meant they were
truly happy with their situation, but rather they
felt that reporting otherwise ‘could only aggravate the matter’. Saying you are happy might
have been a way ‘of counter-acting everyday
negative life experiences’, they speculated.20
A decade after Cantril’s study, the Gallup-Kettering study conducted in the 1970s, the largest
global study of well-being of its time, found that
African countries produced the lowest ladder
of life scores, apart from India. A combined
sample of eleven sub-Saharan African countries
scored 4.61 in the 1970s, a ladder rating not very
different from the most recent Gallup World Poll
ladder ratings reported in WHR 2017 for the
same eleven African countries that range from
3.35 to 5.07.23
Africa’s Quest for Positive Change
Africa’s History of
Depressed Happiness
Well-being may reflect the history of a region.21
This may especially be the case for Africa that
has a short history of self-rule. Low levels of
subjective well-being are likely not to be a recent
development in Africa. Indeed, the first international studies of happiness already found that
evaluations of life were less positive in African
countries south of the Sahara than elsewhere.
The WHR uses the ladder of life measure
introduced by Hadley Cantril in the early 1960s
as the yardstick for ranking countries on global
happiness. Going back in time, Cantril’s classic
study of The Pattern of Human Concerns in 13
countries conducted in the early 1960s included
two African countries: Nigeria represented an
‘underdeveloped giant’ along with Brazil and
India, while Egypt was among three samples
drawn in the Middle East. It seems that the
country evaluations reported by Cantril in the
1960s for Egypt and Nigeria have not shifted
much in fifty years. The highest score is 10 on
Cantril’s 0 to 10 ladder of life scale. Egypt’s
mean ladder score was 5.5 in Cantril’s 1960s
study and 4.735 as recorded in …
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