Are African countries really the most unhappy in the world? - African Business Magazine
Are African countries really the most unhappy in the world?

Are African countries really the most unhappy in the world?

According to the UN’s 2017 World Happiness Report, an effort to measure societal contentedness beyond GDP growth, Norway is the world’s happiest country.

Joining it in the top ten are other Nordic countries, a smattering of Western European nations, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The report lists the main factors supporting happiness as caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. It also identifies six “key variables” used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time.

These are income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust (ie the absence of corruption). For African countries, by contrast, the report makes sombre reading. In an unfortunate reversal of the oft-repeated refrain of recent years – that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa – eight of the 10 unhappiest are also on the continent.

So pronounced is the gap that there is an entire chapter, called “Waiting for Happiness”, dedicated to understanding why happiness in Africa lags the rest of the world. It does not offer any clear-cut answers, musing on whether the apparent levels of unhappiness are the result of disappointment with the disconnect between post-colonial aspirations and current realities or whether they are caused by disappointment with the unfulfilled promise of democracy. It is all quite vague.

So what are we to make of these findings?

Such rankings should be treated with scepticism, not least because of the arguably subjective and vague nature of measuring happiness based on criteria like “having someone to count on in times of trouble”, and “generosity”. Some of the results are also counterintuitive.

For example Rwanda, one of the continent’s most stable countries, and an economic success story in recent years, ranks 151 out of a total of 155 countries. Conversely Libya, a country mired in civil war, is supposedly one of Africa’s happiest at rank 68.

Compelling correlation

On this basis alone the reliability of the findings can be questioned. Yet there is arguably a compelling correlation here. The world’s highest ranked regions and countries also have the most developed infrastructure and social services – from education and healthcare, to transportation networks and telecommunications.

For many countries in Africa, despite progress in recent years, these remain major challenges. What exactly constitutes “developed” is of course debatable, and happiness goes beyond simply having functioning infrastructure.

Yet the ranking suggests there is more than an incidental connection between levels of happiness and having access to things like quality healthcare, education, decent infrastructure, security and good service provision. Whatever else might go into being happy, the impact of such factors is difficult to deny.  


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Written by African Business Magazine

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  • bcs2k11

    Let me see if I get this right. A group of non-Africans (likely European) travel into African and attempt to ascertain the level of happiness of Africans? I’m struggling not to chuckle but it’s tough. I’m not surprised though. The group just doesn’t know and doesn’t get Africa. First, I’m an African-American male with “World Traveller” credentials. I’ve been everywhere. I love off the beaten path spots and unique genuine experiences. I’ve explored many countries in Western Europe, Southern African and Eastern African. Easily — the happiest and most genuine people and experiences that I encountered were in Africa. Unhappy? I’m not sure if they really knew what they were looking at. I found most people quite happy. Appreciative. Gracious. Genuine. And kind. I’m not sure what the report authors saw but I do suspect that their inability to relate fully to African culture and inability to assimilate into everyday life there has distorted their perception of what makes an African happy. Perhaps it’s not always what makes you happy. I suggest the author stick with African wildlife and African economics and learn more about what constitutes happiness in Africa.

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