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partnership of free speech & good governance in Africa
Winnie Mitullah and Paul Kamau, Afrobarometer
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Freedom of speech
is not just valuable as a democratic end in itself. It is strongly
linked to popular perceptions of both media effectiveness and good
governance, according to new data from Afrobarometer, collected
during face-to-face interviews with 51,605 people in 34 countries
during 2011-13. People who indicate they are free to say what they
think also report higher levels of trust in their leaders, lower
levels of corruption, and better government performance –
especially greater success in fighting corruption. Greater freedom
of expression is also linked to mass media that are more effective
in keeping a watchful eye on government. These findings can be interpreted
in several ways. It is possible that capable, effective and trustworthy
governments also grant greater freedoms to their people and their
media. Or alternatively, when society and the media are free to
express demands and hold government accountable, government becomes
more effective. Or both. The survey also finds that new communications
technologies - particularly mobile phones - are making inroads in
Africa; but the continent has some way to go in achieving full protection
of the fundamental right to free speech, and in realizing the benefits
associated societies that can communicate freely.
- Just half
of Africans (49%) across 34 countries say that they are ‘completely
free’ to say what they think, while another quarter (26%)
say they are at least ‘somewhat free’.
- Open countries
like Malawi, Tanzania and Liberia – where at least three-quarters
of citizens feel completely free to express themselves –
contrast sharply with countries like Burkina Faso, Swaziland,
Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Sudan, where only about
one in four perceive unrestricted opportunities for free speech.
- Popular demand
for media freedom is solid, with 57 % endorsing an unfettered
right to publish; the proportions range from 52% in West Africa
to 72% among East Africans.
give high marks to their national media for effectiveness in revealing
government mistakes and corruption; an average of 71% say the
media in their country is either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very
effective’. But this average masks wide differences, from
40% in Madagascar and 43% in Zimbabwe, to 80% or more among Malawians
and Egyptians. East Africans are much more likely (81%) to rate
their media as effective watchdogs compared to all other regions.
freedom of speech and media effectiveness go hand in hand; the
two are strongly and positively correlated.
- Freedom of
speech is also strongly linked to citizens’ ratings of their
leaders: greater freedom is associated with higher levels of trust
in leaders and lower reported levels of corruption.
- Freedom of
speech is also associated with higher ratings of government performance
across all sectors, especially with respect to fighting corruption.
is an increasingly important source of news for Africans, while
newspapers and radio are both down slightly. North Africans use
television far more than do people of other regions.
confirm that cellular telephone penetration in Africa is both
growing and widespread. An average of 84% of respondents now u
se cell phones at least occasionally, and in 20 countries tracked
since 2008, access has increased substantially compared to just
a few years ago. The only exception is Madagascar, where access
to cell phones remains low, and almost unchanged, at 45%.
usage, by contrast, has increased only marginally, and from a
much lower base; an average of 18% of respondents access internet
on at least a monthly basis, but this ranges from nearly twice
as many (34%) in North Africa, to less than one in ten (9%) in
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