WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ghana is celebrating 50 years of independence. The nation, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to break free from colonial rule. Military coups, social unrest, and economic decline beset the country for many years following independence. But, in 1992, Ghana abandoned military rule and lifted the ban on political parties, paving the way for genuine democracy and governance.
After about 15 years of experimenting with democracy, what do Ghanaians think of their current national institutions? A Gallup Poll conducted a few weeks before the anniversary of Ghana's independence shows that large majorities of Ghanaians trust their institutions. Religious organizations garner the highest level of trust with almost 9 in 10 respondents expressing confidence in them. Remarkably, all other national institutions elicit confidence of nearly 70% of Ghanaians. Seventy-two percent of respondents express confidence in their national government, up eight percentage points from the previous year, and 71% believe the electoral system is honest, up 10 points.
Ghana is also the only country in sub-Saharan Africa where respondents' confidence tops regional median for all eight national institutions (although countries such as Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda are close contenders). For example, Ghanaians are far more confident in their electoral system (71%) when compared to the region's median of 42%. The healthcare system (78%) is another national institution that receives far greater levels of trust in Ghana than in the region as a whole (53%). Additionally, financial institutions, the military, the national government, and the judicial system in Ghana all top the regional median by at least 10 points.
The Golden Jubilee has generated much euphoria among the population, but it should not detract from the genuine improvements the country has made in establishing democratic principles. Says Peter Lewis, Ph.D., Director of the African Studies Program and Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University, "For the last decade, Ghana has been on a steady, upward trend in terms of quality, performance, and depth of democracy."
This year, Ghanaians are also more optimistic about their future. When asked where they will stand five years from now on the 0-to-10 Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, with 10 being the best possible situation, more than three quarters of respondents (77%) expect to be on one of the top four rungs, up 10 points from 2006. But deeper economic reforms will be needed to meet Ghanaians' expectations. "People can make the distinction between political and economic goods," says Lewis.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in Ghana in February 2007, aged 15 and older. Poll data from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe were collected in 2007. For Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Togo, the data were collected in 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 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.