Gallup: 14 of the 15 most 'optimistic' countries are in Africa. Why?

Americans and Europeans (especially Greeks) are pessimistic. But people buy the 'Africa rising' narrative on the world's most challenged continent.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Joshua Keating has written a brief, thought-provoking article in Slate titled “The Optimistic Continent.” He notes that the World Economic Forum’s Survey on the Global Agenda identifies Africa as the world’s most optimistic region regarding the ability of institutions (public and private) to respond to “global challenges.” 

He also cites a Gallup survey that shows that fourteen of the fifteen most optimistic countries in the world were in Africa with respect to respondents’ future lives in comparison with their current ones.

The same survey also shows that Africans are more optimistic than Europeans or Americans that their children will be better off than themselves.

For Mr. Keating, African optimism is credible because of the improved living standards – in some countries. But he also observes that not only is inequality growing within countries, it is increasing between countries.

Keating’s short article raises two big questions: Why are Europeans and Americans increasingly pessimistic about the future? And why are the peoples of the world’s poorest and most challenged continent so optimistic?

The first question may be easier to answer. Europe and North American are still recovering from the “Great Recession” of 2008. In those countries, unemployment is high, job opportunities seem to be shrinking, and middle and working-class incomes are stagnating or declining. Add to those realities the political paralysis in Washington and the seemingly lackluster political leadership elsewhere in the developed world.

And then there is the challenge of China, sometimes seen in the West as an evolving rival, a challenge I think that is over-stated.

African optimism is harder to explain. Optimists downplay internal conflicts, but they have not gone away: northern Nigeria, Mali, eastern Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia are current examples.

The statistical underpinnings of an alleged African economic boom have been seriously called into question by Morten Jerven in his book Poor Numbers.

Most big African cities show almost grotesque inequalities of wealth, and not only are some countries much more successful than others (e.g., Ghana, Botswana, South Africa), but even within countries certain regions are more successful than others (e.g., the Lagos-Ibadan corridor in Nigeria or Katanga in the Congo).

But the “Africa Rising” narrative has been embraced by African opinion leaders, by African governments, and by many investment houses based in the developed world. For much of the media, that narrative is not to be questioned. 

That surely has some impact on popular perceptions, which is what the World Economic Forum and Gallup are measuring.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Gallup: 14 of the 15 most 'optimistic' countries are in Africa. Why?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today