Despite all the problems plaguing the continent, Africa's youth sees a brighter future ahead.

Author: Luca Ventura

INTRODUCTION

Are the people of Africa really among the least happy in the world? This is the question that a team of researchers tried to answer in a chapter of the World Happiness Report in 2017. Four years later, that question is still relevant: out of 149 countries surveyed in the 2021 edition of the ranking, only 10 are among the top 100, and only one barely breaks into the top 50.

Certainly, the explosion of the Covid-19 pandemic did not help. The human toll, the report points out, has been less severe than elsewhere. On average, the national median age in Europe is over 40 years while in many African nations is less than 20. Populations often live far removed from urban areas which are the biggest centers of infection, comorbidities are less common, more time is spent outdoor due to higher temperatures, more people are engaged in farm work, and many people in Africa have dealt with epidemics such as Ebola. There are fewer international tourist arrivals, too.

Yet, the coronavirus crisis translated into lost economic productivity and trade both within and among African nations. Countries depending mainly on agriculture saw a drop in exports, those relying on oil exports saw a decline in prices and in government revenue. There were almost no policy measures aimed at cushioning income and job losses. Already insufficient hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed and understaffed.

Of course, the coronavirus crisis is only the latest in a long string of problems that have plagued the African continent for too long—the legacy of colonialism, authoritarianism, corruption, political and ethnic divisions. Poor infrastructure and lack of services contribute to poverty and depress happiness. Not only that, surveys and empirical observation suggest that citizens might be willing to give up their democratic rights in favor of better living conditions.

So, how did the researchers answered that question about Africa being the least happy region in the world? The best they could. Indeed, there is happiness among the people living on the continent, although it is often despite the circumstances rather than because of them as the report's authors note: “Most countries in the world project that life circumstances will improve in future. However, Africa’s optimism may be exceptional. African people demonstrate ingenuity that makes life bearable even under less than perfect circumstances.” The citizens of this continent are essentially optimistic, the researchers wrote, most of all the youth who have their lives ahead of them: “What if the African youth’s confidence in their future and their entrepreneurial spirit were to be matched by substantial investment in their development? Then, no doubt, African countries would join the ranks of the world’s prosperous and happy nations.”


#3 | REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

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It is a paradox that never ceases to puzzle experts and casual observers alike. Some incredibly poor countries are happier than many richer countries. Roughly one-half the Republic of the Congo's (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of the Congo) population lives in poverty despite the country being an important oil producer.

Did we say republic? The country's president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who rules like an emperor and has been in power for 37 years, has just won a fourth term amid accusations of vote irregularities. Yet, that also means that the country is politically stable and generally safe. It is astonishingly beautiful too, with 70% of its land covered by rainforests. If happiness is being content with what you have, then the Congolese people are proof of that: their homeland held the 139th position in the happiness ranking in 2015—it rose every year since then, gaining more than 50 spots to where it is today.


#2 | LIBYA

Roman archaeological site Unesco World Heritage Site in Libya
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Libya is not what comes to mind when you think of a happy nation. Indeed, at 88 in the global happiness ranking it is midway between glee (Finland, the happiest country in the world) and sheer misery (Afghanistan, at the bottom of the ranking).

Oil revenues and a small population of just 7 million explain why Libya boasts one of the highest nominal per capita GDP on the continent. Yet, too much inequality means that about a third of the population lives at or below the poverty line. To make matters worse, falling oil prices in 2020 have shrunk the economy by 60%. All the while, the UN-backed government was under siege for 14 months until June by the forces of Khalifa Haftar, a one-time general under former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The notion that Libya routinely ranks amongst the happiest countries in Africa seems to baffle and even amuse many Libyans. And while it remains true that happiness can be achieved despite less-than-ideal circumstances, the World Happiness Report has not failed to register the increasing pessimism of the Libyan population and the rapid deterioration of its standards of living: since 2015 the country has slid in the ranking by almost 20 positions.


#1 | MAURITIUS

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White sand beaches, turquoise ocean waters, breathtaking forests. It is easy to picture this island off the east coast of Africa as a happy place. Its distance from the mainland also made it less exposed to some of the political and economic maladies hampering the rest of the continent.

Mauritius is a rich, well-administered model of democracy and an ideal place to live and launch a business. With its mix of ancestries— Indian, Creole, Chinese, French and more—is also one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

Despite the pandemic, which resulted in a big blow to the tourism industry, this nation of 1.3 million lost only one spot in the happiness ranking compared to 2019 (but still gaining twenty positions since 2015). More worrying, however, is the rapid rising in sea levels, which will continue to threaten the coastal zones and the island’s main revenue source long after Covid-19 is (hopefully) a distant memory.

Happiest Countries in Africa

 

Global Rank

 

Regional Rank

 

Country

50 1 Mauritius
80 2 Libya
83 3 Congo
85 4 Ivory Coast
91 5 Cameroon
92 6 Senegal
95 7 Ghana
96 8 Niger
98 9 Gambia
99 10 Benin
103 11 South Africa
106 12 Morocoo
109 13 Algeria
112 14 Gabon
113 15 Burkina Faso
115 16 Mozambique
116 17 Nigeria
117 18 Mali
119 19 Uganda
120 20 Liberia
121 21 Kenya
122 22 Tunisia
124 23 Namibia
128 24 Chad
130 25 Swaziland
131 26 Comoros
132 27 Egypt
133 28 Ethiopia
134 29 Mauritania
135 30 Madagascar
136 31 Togo
137 32 Zambia
138 33 Sierra Leone
140 34 Burundi
142 35 Tanzania
144 36 Malawi
145 37 Lesotho
146 38 Botswana
147 39 Rwanda
148 40 Zimbabwe
Source: The UN's 2021 World Happiness Report.