Cape Town — Although two of every three Africans believe their governments are performing well in the fight against HIV and Aids, fewer approve of their delivery of basic health services and education, and most say governments are failing to provide enough power, water and sanitation.
These are the findings of a new report from Afrobarometer, the 34-country survey which is becoming recognised as Africa's most comprehensive indicator of public opinion.
The report, entitled What People Want From Government, is written by Joseph Asunka, a research associate of the Centre for Democratic Development in Ghana and is based on surveys carried out between 2011 and 2013.
It shows that:
Sixty-nine percent of respondents say their governments are handling the combating of HIV and Aids "fairly well" or "very well".
A reduced number but still a majority - 59 percent - give the same ratings when assessing their governments' success in addressing educational needs, and fewer still, 57 percent, in improving basic health services.
Only 38 percent say their governments do fairly or very well in guaranteeing a reliable supply of electricity, and only 41 percent in providing water and sanitation services.
"These findings are significant," says Afrobarometer in a press release accompanying the report, "in the light of recent trends where many African governments focus on expanding essential infrastructure in their bid to accelerate development."
Although most Africans across the continent give a positive rating to government performance in supplying education and health services, they are more positive about the ease of access to those services than about their quality.
So while nearly nine in 10 report having schools within walking distance, and seven in 10 say they can easily find places for their children in public primary schools, around six in 10 say classrooms are overcrowded and that there are shortages of textbooks and supplies.
"The adoption of free primary education policies in many countries has expanded access to basic education for many Africans," says the report. "[People] may be rewarding their governments for the improvements in access despite the ongoing... quality challenges."
While 62 percent of people say there is a clinic or hospital within walking distance, and 55 percent that it is easy to get treatment in public health facilities, 77 percent experience long waits for treatment, and 69 percent a lack of medicines and other supplies. And nearly one in five told interviewers they had to pay bribes to get service.
"In short," adds the report, "people who give high ratings to government services even as they note long waits and lack of essential supplies may be simultaneously giving their governments credit for improving access, while reporting that much work remains undone.
"These results suggest that the mere presence of a primary school or a health clinic in the vicinity is insufficient to ensure popular satisfaction with government service delivery. People must also be able to access services with ease. And while access may still outweigh quality when it comes to public evaluations of government performance, quality matters as well.
"Governments would therefore be well advised to concentrate on upgrading both access to and quality of primary education, healthcare and basic services; providing infrastructure alone will not meet the public's needs, or win its praise. "
The trans-continental averages reported in the survey conceal wide differences in perception from one country to another.
Governments in Algeria, Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa get good marks for supplying water, sanitation and reliable electricity, while that in Nigeria rates poorly. So do the governments of Liberia, Uganda, Guinea and Zimbabwe for those countries' lack of reliable power, and of Togo, Tunisia, Cameroon and Egypt for the paucity of water and sanitation.
In education, the governments of Burundi, Mauritius, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia get the highest marks from their people, while those of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan and Senegal get the lowest.
And the people of Burundi, Mauritius, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia give the highest ratings for health services, while those of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan and Guinea the lowest.
On HIV and Aids, the report says that "popular approval of government performance... is very high in Botswana (94 percent) and Swaziland (92 percent), two countries with some of the highest adult HIV prevalence rates in the world. Meanwhile, in Egypt and Tunisia where adult HIV prevalence is less than 0.1 percent according to official data (compared to almost 27 percent in Swaziland), fewer than 20 percent of all adults think governments do well in combating HIV/Aids."
Despite positive assessments in the 2011-2013 survey in many countries, on health and education in particular, the report shows that in the 16 countries which have been part of the Afrobarometer surveys since 2002, most people feel their governments' performances have declined over time.
Rating of governments have dropped in four of five areas: by eight percentage points in water and sanitation provision, by six percentage points in education and by three points in health and electricity provision. Only in fighting HIV and Aids do people believe their governments have improved over the last decade.