Why Are Africans so Optimistic About the Future?

The World
How It Works
Nov. 18 2013 1:23 PM

The Optimistic Continent

172494861
A youth watches children playing football in Alexandra township on July 1, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Looking at the highlights from the World Economic Forum’s Survey on the Global Agenda, I was interested to see that sub-Saharan Africa was identified as the region most optimistic about the ability of government, business, and media institutions to tackle global challenges. On the international level, these institutions haven’t exactly served Africans’ interests all that well in the past. This fits in with some other recent survey data showing that African countries are in a particularly optimistic mood at the moment.

A recent Gallup survey found that when asked to rate their future lives vs. their current lives, 14 of the 15 most optimistic countries were in Africa, despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that these same countries have some of the lowest rankings for current life satisfaction. (Seven of the 15 most pessimistic were in Europe.) Africans were also far more optimistic than Europeans or North Americans that their children would be better off than themselves in a recent Pew poll. (Pew put Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa together in one, so the region’s average numbers were brought down by bleakly pessimistic Egypt.)

Advertisement

The optimism makes sense, and not just because, as Gallup puts it, people in the world’s poorest countries “cannot imagine that their lives could get any worse.” Sub-Saharan African countries in particular have made some of the largest strides in living standards over the past decade. But at the same time, inequality has been growing not just within countries but between them. And it’s not just income. Global problems like climate change will likely impact poor countries much more than the downers in Europe and North America. Even if rates of hunger and child mortality are dramatically falling nearly everywhere, they’re going to continue to disproportionately impact African and South Asian countries for some time.

We’re now in an interesting period in which the people in the countries with the world’s best quality of life—who despite current difficulties are likely to remain in that position for some time—are the least optimistic about future prospects for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, people in the world's poorest countries are feeling the best about the future. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.