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«Afrobarometer Paper No. 1 SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: INTRINSIC OR INSTRUMENTAL? by Michael Bratton and Robert Mattes Revised April 2000 Michael ...»

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Afrobarometer Paper No1

SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY

IN AFRICA

INTRINSIC OR INSTRUMENTAL?

By Michael Bratton

and Robert Mattes

MSU WORKING PAPERS

on

POLITICAL REFORM IN AFRICA

Afrobarometer Paper No. 1

SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY

IN AFRICA:

INTRINSIC OR INSTRUMENTAL?

by Michael Bratton and Robert Mattes Revised April 2000 Michael Bratton is Professor of Political Science and African Studies, Michigan State University.

Robert Mattes is Director of the Public Opinion Service of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA).

Copyright Afrobarometer

AFROBAROMETER WORKING PAPERS

Co-Editors: Michael Bratton, E. Gyimah-Boadi, and Robert Mattes The Afrobarometer Series, launched in October 1999, reports the results of national sample surveys on the attitudes of citizens in selected African countries towards democracy, markets and other aspects of development. The Afrobarometer is a joint enterprise of Michigan State University (MSU), the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD, Ghana). Afrobarometer papers are simultaneously co-published by these partner institutions. The objective of the Afrobarometer is to collect, analyze and disseminate cross-national, time- series attitudinal data for up to a dozen new democracies on the African continent.

Copies of Working Papers are available for $15.00 each plus applicable tax, shipping and handling charges.

Orders may be directed to:

IDASA POS

6 Spin Street, Church Square Cape Town 8001 SOUTH AFRICA (phone: 27 21 461 5229, fax: 27 21 461 2589, e-mail: tanya@idasact.org.za) An invoice will be sent For supporting research, capacity-building, and research, we are grateful to the United States for International Development (USAID) and to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Copyright Afrobarometer Publications List

AFROBAROMETER WORKING PAPERS

No.1 Bratton, Michael and Robert Mattes, “Support for Democracy in Africa: Instrinsic or Instrumental?” 1999.

No.2 Bratton, Michael, Peter Lewis and E. Gyimah-Boadi, “Attitudes to Democracy and Markets in Ghana,” 1999.

No.3 Lewis, Peter M. and Michael Bratton, “Attitudes to Democracy and Markets in Nigeria,” 2000.

No.4 Bratton, Michael, Gina Lambright and Robert Sentamu, “Democracy and Economy in Uganda:

A Public Opinion Perspective,” 2000.

No.5 Bratton, Michael and Robert Mattes, “Democratic and Market Reforms in Africa: What ‘the People’ Say,” 2000.

No.6 Bratton, Michael and Gina Lambright, “Uganda’s Referendum 2000: The Silent Boycott,” 2001.

No.7 Mattes, Robert, Yul Derek Davids, Cherrel Africa and Michael Bratton, “Public Opinion and the Consolidation of Democracy in Southern Africa,” July 2000.

No.8 Mattes, Robert, Yul Derek Davids and Cherrel Africa, “Views of Democracy in South Africa and the Region: Trends and Comparisons,” October 2000.

No. 9 Bratton, Michael, Massa Coulibaly and Fabiana Machado, “Popular Perceptions of Good Governance in Mali,” March 2000.

No.10 Bratton, Michael and Robert Mattes, “Economic Values and Economic Reform in Southern Africa,” 2001.

–  –  –

Based on comparative analysis of original survey data from Ghana, Zambia and South Africa, this paper assesses the attitudes of African citizens towards democracy. Is democracy valued intrinsically (as an end in itself) or instrumentally (e.g. as a means to improving material living standards)? We find as much popular support for democracy in Africa as in other Third-Wave regions but less satisfaction with the performance of elected governments. The fact that Africans support democracy while being discontented with its achievements implies a measure of intrinsic support that supercedes instrumental considerations. At the same time, approval of democracy remains performance-driven: but approval hinges less on the government’s capacity at delivering economic goods than its ability to guarantee basic political rights. Our findings extend recent arguments about the importance of political goods in regime consolidation and call into question the conventional wisdom that governments in new democracies legitimate themselves mainly through economic performance.

–  –  –

Introduction Popular support for a political regime is the essence of its consolidation. By voluntarily

endorsing the rules that govern them, citizens endow a regime with an elusive but indispensable quality:

political legitimacy. The most widely accepted definition of the consolidation of democracy equates it squarely with legitimation. In a memorable turn of phrase, Linz and Stepan speak of democratic consolidation as a process by which all political actors come to regard democracy as “the only game in town.”1 In other words, democracy is consolidated when citizens and leaders alike conclude that no alternative form of regime has any greater subjective validity or stronger objective claim to their allegiance.





This paper explores how the general public in new multiparty political regimes in subSaharan Africa is oriented towards democracy. What, if anything, do Africans understand by the concept? Do they resemble citizens in new democracies elsewhere in the world in their willingness to support a regime based on human rights, competing parties and open elections? And beyond democracy as a model set of rights and institutions, are citizens in Africa satisfied with the way that elected regimes operate in practice? All of these questions are coloured by the fact that many of Africa’s democratic experiments are taking place in countries with agrarian economies, low per capita incomes and minuscule middle classes. Under such unpropitious conditions, observers have every reason to wonder whether elected governments have the capacity to meet citizen expectations and, if they cannot, whether citizens may therefore quickly lose faith in democracy.

We assume that citizens will extend tentative support to neo-democracies, if only because they promise change from failed authoritarian formulae of the past. But what is the nature of any such support? Is it intrinsic, based on an appreciation of the political freedoms and equal rights that democracy embodies when valued as an end in itself? Or does support reflect a more instrumental calculation in which regime change is a means to other ends, most commonly the alleviation of poverty and the improvement of living standards?

The resolution of this issue has direct implications for regime consolidation. Intrinsic support is a commitment to democracy “for better or worse”; as such, it has the potential to sustain a fragile political regime even in the face of economic downturn or social upheaval. By contrast, instrumental support is conditional. It is granted, and may be easily withdrawn, according to the temper of the times. If citizens evaluate regimes mainly in terms of their capacity to deliver consumable benefits or to rectify material inequalities, then they may also succumb to the siren song of populist leaders who argue that economic development requires the sacrifice of political liberties.

–  –  –

is very unlikely that citizens in neo-democracies would possess a reservoir of favourable affective dispositions arising from a lifetime of exposure to democratic norms.2 If democracy is a novel experience, how could such socialisation have taken place? Instead of bestowing “diffuse support”, citizens fall back on performance-based judgements of what democracy actually does for them.

We wish to divide regime performance, however, into distinct baskets of goods: an economic basket (that includes economic assets, jobs, and an array of basic social services) and a political basket (that contains peace, civil liberties, political rights, human dignity, and equality before the law). The African cases provide a critical test of the importance of political goods to evaluations of democracy. If the denizens of the world’s poorest continent make “separate and correct” distinctions between “a basket of economic goods (which may be deteriorating) and a basket of political goods (which may be improving)”3, then citizens everywhere are likely to do so. And if political goods seem to matter more than economic goods in judging democracy, then we can even cast light on the “intrinsic versus instrumental” debate. If democracy is valued by citizens as an end in itself in Africa, then this generalisation probably holds good universally.

In this study we find that citizen orientations to democracy in Africa are most fully explained with reference to both baskets of goods. With one interesting country exception, satisfaction with democracy (the way elected governments actually work) is driven just as much by guarantees of political rights as by the quest for material benefit. Support for democracy (as a preferred form of government) is rooted even more deeply in an appreciation of new-found political freedoms, a finding that runs counter to the conventional view that the continent’s deep economic crisis precludes the regime consolidation. At least so far, new democratic regimes in Africa have been able to legitimate themselves by delivering political goods.

Scope of the Study

Our substantive focus is intentionally restricted -- to attitudes to democracy, among masses rather than elites -- because our geographical coverage is broader than most studies in Africa.

This paper uses standard survey items to compare political attitudes in Ghana, Zambia and South Africa, thus bridging the major regions of the sub-Saharan sub-continent and situating public opinion in Africa in relation to other new democracies in the world.

All three countries underwent an electoral transition to multi-party democracy during the last decade but their political trajectories have since diverged. Both of South Africa’s competitive polls (in April 1994 and June 1999) were ruled substantially free and fair by independent observers. By contrast, Zambia’s founding elections of October 1991 were far more credible than the country’s dubious second contest of November 1996. For its part, Ghana experienced improved electoral quality, with flawed elections in November 1992 making way for a December 1996 poll that drew almost universal praise. Thus, with reference to the institution of elections alone, South Africa’s democracy has stabilized, Ghana’s is gradually consolidating, and Zambia’s is slowly dying.

–  –  –

opposition elites, whose interest in self-enrichment was sometimes more palpable than their commitment to democracy. Even elected leaders have tampered with constitutional rules in order to prolong a term of office or to sideline rivals. And the armed forces continue to lurk threateningly in the wings: about half a dozen of Africa’s new democracies succumbed to military intervention within five years of transition.

Only in places like South Africa in 1994 (and possibly Nigeria in 1999) where transitions were lubricated by pacts among powerful insiders are there signs that a culture of compromise and accommodation has penetrated the ranks of the political elite.

The extent to which a commitment to democracy has radiated through the populace is also open to question. After all, regime transitions in Africa were sparked by popular protests that were rooted in economic as well as political grievances. While the protesters had clear ideas about what they were against (the repressions and predations of big-man rule) they did not articulate an elaborate or coherent vision of what they were for. Judging by the issues raised in the streets, people seemed to want accountability of leaders and to eliminate the inequities arising from official corruption. To be sure, these preferences loosely embodied core democratic principles. And multiparty elections quickly became a useful rallying cry for would-be political leaders. But, during the tumult of transition, relatively little attention was paid to the institutional design of the polity. Emerging from life under military and one-party rule, citizens could hardly be expected to have in mind a full set of democratic rules or to evince a deep attachment to them.

This article takes stock of what has been learned from the first generation of research on political attitudes in new African democracies in the 1990s. We report results from three attitude surveys, each based on a national probability sample and part of a nascent time series. In Zambia, a survey conducted by the University of Zambia’s Institute for Economic and Social Research covered 1182 respondents in November 1996, immediately following the country’s second election. In South Africa, a sample of 3500 persons stratified by race, province and community size was interviewed in June and July 1997 for the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. In Ghana, a survey conducted in July 1999 by the Centre for Democracy and Development included 2005 voting-age adults from all ten regions of the country. 4 In all cases the survey instrument included questions on citizen understandings of the meaning of democracy, and their support for and satisfaction with this regime form in theory and practice.

These data offer a rare opportunity to compare African countries along such dimensions, both one with another and with newly liberalized regimes elsewhere.

For any exploratory research, caveats are in order. The first concerns comparability.



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