How Do African Populations View the Two "Giants" in Their Midst?

by Bob Tortora, Regional Research Director for Sub-Saharan Africa

Overall, South Africa's leadership viewed more positively than Nigeria's

Sub-Saharan Africa's population giant, Nigeria, and its economic giant, South Africa, have both made social and economic progress in recent years, and each country's leadership needs to elevate the level of trust and optimism within its own populations to build momentum. But how is the leadership in each country viewed more broadly in sub-Saharan Africa? The answer will be increasingly important in coming decades, as many African economies develop more and regional economic and diplomatic arrangements begin to play a bigger role across the continent.

Both Nigeria and South Africa could potentially evolve into major hubs in the global economy. The speed and success of that evolution will partly depend on how potential trading partners -- and that includes countries in sub-Saharan Africa -- view the country's leaders. The Gallup World Poll asked respondents in the region whether they approved or disapproved of the leadership of South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa appears to have an apparent edge over Nigeria.

Approval Ratings Across Sub-Saharan Africa

While a majority of sub-Saharan Africans*, 58%, say they approve of the leadership of South Africa, only 41% say the same of the leadership of Nigeria. The corresponding disapproval ratings are 28% for Nigeria and 16% for South Africa. About one in three (31%) are undecided about Nigerian leadership and slightly more than one in four (26%) are undecided about South African leadership.

Approval Ratings Within Each Country's Own Region

Importantly from the standpoint of regional trade, approval ratings of South Africa's and Nigeria's leaders are higher among those populations in closer proximity. Approval of South Africa's leadership rises 13 percentage points to 71% among the six countries in Southern Africa, while approval of Nigeria's leaders rises 16 points to 57% among the seven countries in West Africa. Disapproval ratings also increase by about three percentage points in each case, indicating that the increases are primarily attributable to Africans being considerably less likely to say they "don't know" when asked about the country closer to them.

Given that transport and communications infrastructures are at best spotty in most of sub-Saharan Africa, it's easy to see why proximity is important to any kind of awareness or opinion about another country's leaders. There is ample opportunity for both countries to form positive impressions among the millions of Africans who as yet have no impressions at all. And for Nigeria, such an effort could be crucial to its future success.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with randomly selected national samples of approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, who live permanently in the 18 African nations surveyed. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. All data were weighted based on the population of adults aged 15 and older in each country.

*Respondents in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe rated Nigeria. South Africa was rated by all of the above, excluding South Africans and including Nigeria.

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