Africa.com Survey Finds Africans Unconvinced That Unrest in Malawi is Part of the “Arab Spring”

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In a new survey of Africa.com’s global readership, 70.1 percent believe the unrest in Malawi is being driven by the same forces as in Tunisia and Egypt. Among African respondents, however, only 56 percent agree.

Last month, political demonstrations wracked Senegal. Now it’s Malawi’s turn.

Over the last week, headlines from Malawi have screamed 18 people killed, many injured and dozens of businesses ransacked when President Bingu wa Mutharika’s security forces used lethal force against protestors in the cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu. In a nationwide address, wa Mutharika accused the demonstrators of being “led by Satan.” The U.S. government responded by suspending expenditures of a five-year, $350 million dollar aid program.

Is the “Arab Spring” that produced major political changes in Tunisia and Egypt now sweeping through Sub-Saharan Africa? Maybe.

In a new survey of Africa.com’s global readership from July 21 to 26, a whopping 70.1 percent of respondents said “yes” -- political unrest in Malawi was inspired by similar events in Egypt and Tunisia. A smaller percentage (60.6 percent) believes that the protests will result in a change of leadership in Malawi.

The views from Africa, however, were markedly different. Only 56 percent of respondents from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia and Malawi itself believe the unrest was inspired by the “Arab Spring.” Yet 70 percent of the respondents said the protestors will be able to change Malawi’s government.

Indeed, a number of experts in southern Africa have cited strictly local causes for the unrest in Malawi rather than any spillover from events in North Africa. They mention shortages of fuel and foreign exchange, frequent power failures, repressive media legislation and overall poor economic management. A local Malawian political analyst also mentioned a “sense of betrayal” within the electorate after the 2009 elections when President wa Mutharika was overwhelmingly backed for a second term of office.

The political survey was a first for Africa.com, but the results have convinced CEO Teresa Clarke to continue them. “Africa.com’s mission is to change the way the world sees Africa,“ she said. “Hearing directly from African citizens – how they agree and how they disagree with the way they are viewed globally – is critically important in a world that is increasingly linked technologically, economically and politically.”

The sample size represented a wide geographic mix. Of the respondents who named their country, only 15 percent cited an African country. At 43 percent, Americans were the bulk of the respondents, but the sample included Europe (UK, Norway, Russia and Germany), Asia (China, India, Korea, Bangladesh and the Philippines) as well as Australia, Canada and Jamaica.

The Africa.com survey also discovered major perception gaps by age. Global respondents under age 18 were evenly split over whether change will come in Malawi as a result of the protests. But 66.7 percent of respondents over age 55 think change is likely.

The young (66.7 percent of those under age 18) did believe that protests in Malawi were inspired by the Arab Spring, but not as much as their elders - 71.4 percent of those aged 35 to 54 and 88.9 percent of those over age 55.

None of the African respondents reported being over age 55; 70 percent were 18 to 35.

In the global results, men were 52.2 percent of the respondents, but in Africa, men represented 70 percent.

About Africa.com: Africa.com is the fastest growing Africa-related internet site with 1 million+ unique visitors each month from around the world. Visitors have access to financial, political and cultural news, maps, information about world-wide events and non-profit organizations related to Africa as well as views from opinion-leaders.

Africa.com has partnered with a number of best-in-class content providers including the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs and HAND/EYE Magazines, McKinsey and Co., Freedom House and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Additional partnerships will be announced shortly.

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Jacqueline Adams
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