Happiness under the African sky, or not?

by Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells

Everyone is in pursuit of happiness - that elusive state in the human psyche that is not merely a positive mood but a state of well-being with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction. Happiness is fast becoming a measure for social progress and is no doubt increasingly being used as an indicator by governments, organisations and civil societies to inform policy-making decisions. 

The main factors found to support happiness are GDP per capita (income), social support, healthy life expectancy (health), freedom to make life choices, generosity and good governance (absence of corruption in business and government). So who, or what is stealing the happiness of the African people?

According to the 2017 World Happiness Report South African citizens rank 101st when it comes to global happiness. This 2017 World Happiness Report, the fifth of its kind, was published earlier this year by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. 

When compared to the other continental counterparts, South Africa is the seventh happiest place to be in Africa with Egypt and Sierra Leone in 8th and 9th places. Algeria sits at the top of the happiness ranks when one looks only at the African continent. Notably, only six African countries rank among the top 100 happiest countries, whereas most of the last ten on the global list are in Africa. 

According to the citizens in the 44 countries surveyed in the 2017 World Happiness Report the following are the major problems facing the continent:

1) Poor governance

According to the 2017 report African countries have already undergone two forms of governance liberation and are now stuck in the middle of a third one. First, it was the struggle against colonialism. Then it was the fight against liberation from dictatorships that merged from independence from the colonial rulers. Now, many African countries are facing a struggle of establishing a proper democratic society with a hope that democracy would restore dignity to African people and improve their life circumstances. Healthcare, security, political stability and infrastructure development projects are all affected by poor governance which in turn impacts on the happiness of the African people.

2) Corruption

There is no doubt that corruption has infiltrated itself in many governments and some organisations worldwide, Corruption has invaded simple things like access to medical care, schools and jobs as well as greater things like tender awards and misappropriation of public resources. Corruption has led to a lack of service delivery and has discouraged local and foreign investments. While small steps are being taken by respective governments to combat corruption, the perceptions of corruption in Africa and the level of trust to the government show the situation is still far from ideal.


3) Unemployment 

Simply put, governments do not invest in the African youth enough. There is a huge disconnect between the older generation, in the majority of the policy and decision making institutions, and the increasing youth population. This in turn contributes to lower family incomes, an increase in so-called survival crimes and other social-economic issues.

4) Population growth

The African continent has some of the highest averages for fertility rates and population growth in the world. As population rates decrease in the rest of the world, it is estimated that Africa will contribute 54% of the overall growth of the world population by 2050. The challenge with an increase in population is to meet the basic needs of this population explosion.

5) Droughts and Famine 

The African continent is yet to fully achieve its agricultural potential and the weather patterns continue to be a challenge. Pro-longed drought periods result in people displacement and deplete grain reserves. Less than 10% of the continent’s cultivated land is irrigated, which leaves farmers exposed to the elements and has significant impact on food insecurity, which in turn leads to various other social-economic challenges.

Despite the significant challenges faced by the African continent, Africa's happiness seems to be buoyed by its astonishing resilience. African people simply have the ability to keep on going despite less than favorable circumstances. 

I personally believe that none of Africa’s problems is beyond the means and resources within the continent and most of the problems listed above can be mitigated by proper governance. 

I therefore encourage Africa to continue rising and to 'stand-up' for itself, as was the theme of our Africa Forums (read report here) in 2017.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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