This article is the fifth in a series that highlights key issues in Africa in relation to the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 4-6.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit shifts toward issues of governance and rule of law in its final day, less than half of sub-Saharan Africans (48%) express confidence in their judicial systems. Down from a high of 55% in 2010, this represents the second consecutive year that confidence in judicial systems and courts remains lower than 50% across Africa.
While strengthening the rule of law is widely viewed as a high priority for many sub-Saharan African countries, Africans' views of their own judicial systems are no worse than other regions. From a global perspective, confidence levels in sub-Saharan Africa are on par with countries of the European Union (49%) and stronger than in former Soviet Union countries (28%) and Latin America (35%).
Among 28 sub-Saharan countries that Gallup surveyed in 2013, Malawi (69%) and Senegal (68%) lead the way in judicial confidence, while slightly more than one in five in Chad (23%) and the conflict-plagued Democratic Republic of the Congo (22%) express confidence in their own judicial systems and courts.
The independence of Malawi's judiciary was on full display this past May after the Malawi High Court rejected sitting President Joyce Banda's call to annul presidential elections, paving the way for the democratic handover of power to opposition candidate Peter Mutharika. At 61%, Kenya also sits high on the list after the Kenyan Supreme Court upheld the election of Uhuru Kenyatta to the presidency last year.
Viewed from the perspective of Freedom House's 2014 freedom ratings, Africans living in "free" countries -- not surprisingly -- are significantly more likely to have confidence in their judicial systems and courts (60%) than those living in "partly free" countries (48%) and countries deemed "not free" (41%).
While age, gender, education, and income are not related to confidence in the judiciary across Africa, feelings about judicial systems are strongly associated with opinions about the job performance of the country's leadership. Africans with confidence in their country's leadership are nearly twice as likely to say they have confidence in the judicial system (63% vs. 34%) compared with those who do not.
In countries that Freedom House rates as "free," the judiciary is less politicized and enjoys similar levels of confidence from both ends of the political divide. In Botswana, considered free by Freedom House since 1989, 62% of those who support their country's leadership express confidence in the judicial system, a level similar to that of non-supporters of country leadership (59%). By contrast, in Mauritania, considered "not free," a 46-percentage-point gap in judicial confidence separates supporters of the country's leadership from its critics (65% vs. 19%). Among all free countries, the mean gap is 17 points, while in partly free countries the gap stands at 26 points, and in not free countries it is 32 points.
In 1990, just before the end of the Cold War, Freedom House recorded only three "free democracies" in all of sub-Saharan Africa, a number that had swelled to 11 by 2002. However, in the intervening 12 years, African democracy has seen major backsliding, with only nine democracies recorded in 2013. As evidenced by this week's summit, Africa's great potential is increasingly being recognized by foreign governments and businesses alike. Strong judiciary systems can help African countries further realize that potential and play a key role in the continent's democratic consolidation and economic growth.
Independent judiciaries in Africa can help to provide checks and balances against autocratic rulers, reel in out-of-control corruption, and prevent conflict through effective civil justice. And with African nations increasingly keen to attract the attention of American businesses, countries with a proven rule of law and consistently enforced regulations maintain a strong advantage in drawing foreign investment.
Where China has been criticized for ignoring governance and human rights issues in its relations with African governments, observers are keen to see if this week's inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit makes these issues an important component of the U.S.-Africa relationship. A successful summit could lead not only to increased economic interaction between Africa and the U.S., but to additional support for democratic capacity building on the continent as well.
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Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2013. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error ranged from ±3.4 percentage points to ±4.0 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.