THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

The partnership of free speech & good governance in Africa
Winnie Mitullah and Paul Kamau, Afrobarometer
October 2013

Download this document
- Acrobat PDF version (1.8MB)
If you do not have the free Acrobat reader on your computer, download it from the Adobe website by clicking here.


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.

Key findings

  • 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.
  • Citizens 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.
  • Individual 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.
  • Television 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.
  • Findings 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%.
  • Internet 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 West Africa.

Download full document

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.