Key areas of optimism include the economy, education and health care, according to a recent Global Attitudes survey
measuring public opinion in these three African nations.
The survey, conducted by Pew Research Center, asked respondents all over the world whether today’s children will grow up to be better or worse off than their parents.
“It’s an interesting pattern globally,” said Richard Wike, the Director of Global Attitudes Research at Pew Research Center, “It’s more the developing and emerging nations where you see more optimism, and that’s true of what we see in Africa too.”
Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa were the only African countries surveyed as they are, according to Wike, the most “politically and economically signification nations in the region”. In the three countries large majorities believe the economic future will improve in the near future.
The survey revealed Nigerians as the most optimistic, with 86% expecting their economic situation to improve in the next year, compared to approximately 60% of South Africans and Kenyans.
However this optimism is not blind, instead it correlates with each country’s recent development.
“If people have seen some improvement economically in the past decade, that makes them more optimistic about the long-term future,” Wike told CNN news.
In Nigeria, for example, there is a great deal of optimism about the long-term economic future as there has been significant economic growth in recent years.
“Our data would suggest that optimism is based on what’s happened recently in terms of a country’s economic trajectory,” he continued.
Current pessimism and future optimism
That’s not to say that Kenyans, Nigerians and South Africans are optimistic about the current economic situation in their respective nations.
Ratings of the current economy are significantly more negative in Nigeria and South Africa in 2016. Seven-in-ten respondents from both countries consider their economies to be in bad shape.
In Kenya, just over half of respondents felt the same way.
The vast majority of respondents across countries cite government corruption as a stumbling block to development, as well as lack of employment opportunities.
“It’s important to remember that this long term optimism coexists with a lot of concerns about the current situation in these countries,” said Wike.
When asked about the next generation, respondents were especially confident about the development of education and health care in their countries. Nigerians are the most optimistic about education and health care, with around 85% expecting both to improve for the next generation.
Kenyans are slightly less optimistic with 81% believing education will be better, and 76% optimistic about health care.
South Africans are least optimistic about education and health care with 67% and 62% respectively.
Race an ‘important factor’
In South Africa the survey found differences on core issues along racial lines, black South Africans tend to be consistently more optimistic than white and mixed-race South Africans.
“Race is an extremely important factor in trying to understand public opinion in South Africa,” said Wike.
“We certainly see that it’s a big dividing line on lots of issues including how people feel about the economy and how optimistic they are about the future as well.”
Nearly 70% of black South Africans think the national economy will improve compared with 46% of white and 30% of mixed-race South Africans.
The same pattern is evident for education, poverty, health care and government corruption.
Dividing lines are also apparent in Kenya between ethnic groups. The survey found the Kikuyu and Kalenjin groups to hold more positive views about the country than the Luhya and Luo groups.
The most optimistic of all
In Nigeria, Muslims are slightly more optimistic about the economy’s potential for improvement (58%) than Christians (43%).
Similarly, the rich and poor have divided opinions, with just over 60% of lower-income Nigerians expecting the economy to improve substantially over the next year. This is compared to 47% of Nigerians with higher incomes.
Furthermore, lower-income Nigerians are nearly 10 percentage points more optimistic about education, health care and government corruption than higher-income individuals.
Overall, Nigerians prove to be significantly more optimistic about the future prospects of health care, education, poverty and equality between men and women.
Having conducted surveys in many other African nations, Wike concludes that optimism in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya is somewhat representative of what he has seen elsewhere in Africa, particularly in terms of long-term economic optimism.
“Nigeria’s near the higher end of that scale — we tend to see more long-term optimism in Nigeria — Kenya is probably in the middle of the pack in terms of what we’ve seen in Africa, and then a little less in South Africa compared to what we’ve seen around other parts of the region,” he said.