Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

As South Africa prepares to bury Nelson Mandela, young Africans are optimistic about the future

By Richard Allen Greene and Peter Bale, CNN
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
  • Two-thirds said they were more optimistic about the future than when Mandela took office
  • One in four Africans surveyed say their leaders are living up to Mandela's vision "well"
  • Just under half of South African respondents said the country would succeed without him
  • Survey of more than 9,000 people in 20 countries was undertaken by CNN in partnership with Jana

Editor's note: How are you remembering the former South African president? Share your thoughts.

(CNN) -- With the passing of Nelson Mandela it might be timely to put aside out-of-date and ill-informed views of Africa, and see it the way Africans seem to: With a high level of optimism.

Two-thirds of respondents to a CNN survey of more than 9,000 people across South Africa and 19 other African countries say they feel more confident about the future than when Mandela came to power.

Corruption tops their list of fears -- particularly in Nigeria -- but generally they believe their leaders are "doing their best."

The survey, conducted on smartphones, PCs and web-enabled feature phones, was an attempt to give a sense of the mood of Africans about their future and Mandela's legacy.

It suggests a positive outlook, and perhaps surprising high levels of patience with African leaders, and immense respect for Mandela as a leader for Africa not just South Africa. The survey is weighted towards South Africa with 4,871 respondents, but gives insights to other countries across a hugely diverse continent where Mandela had a huge impact.

Think you know Africa? Think again

If you think of Africa as war-torn, corrupt, beset by crippling poverty, starvation and a raging AIDS epidemic, that's not the reality or how Africans see themselves and their future.

Mandela's legacy
This is a summary of responses to CNN's question "What does Nelson Mandela mean to me?"

"People in South Africa, including the youth, must keep on respecting, loving, and caring about other people," said one respondent, a 19-year-old woman from South Africa. "The youth must also take education as a weapon, to live as Madiba said." "We are one nation' and we must live in peace, build our nation to a better place, and always remember him."

Nigerian blogger and columnist Tolu Ogunlesi, writing for CNN, said: "Where once the continent was defined by its AK-47s ... it is now more likely to be defined by those mobile phones that have made this survey possible."

While corruption seems to be their greatest single concern, Africans generally give their leaders pretty good reviews, the survey suggests.

Fighting for Mandela's freedom
World reflects on Mandela's life

Half said their leaders were "doing their best," and one in four said their leaders were living up to Mandela's vision. Only a quarter said their leaders were doing badly.

While a clear majority of respondents voiced optimism their own future and those of their family, there was a split down the middle from people across the continent about how South Africa would do after Mandela.

Just under half said the country would succeed without him, while an equal number said it would "struggle." Only 3% predicted it would fail. The numbers in South Africa were very similar.

Given a choice of five options, respondents listed corruption as the greatest challenge facing their country, followed by the gap between rich and poor, poverty, and HIV/AIDS, with war coming last.

Questions and thousands of answers

CNN International asked:

1. Are you more or less optimistic about your own and your family's future now than ... when Mandela came to power in South Africa?

Across Africa, 64% said they were more optimistic, 12% less optimistic. South Africa, the greatest proportion of the entire survey, was almost identical with 65% more optimistic. In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with the second-highest number of respondents, 64% expressed greater optimism. Ivory Coast respondents were the most optimistic with 91% but the sample was insignificant. Rwanda had the highest percentage of "less optimistic" at just under 28% but a majority were still optimistic.

2. How well have your country's current generation of African leaders lived up to Mandela's vision?

Countries surveyed

Ghana, Guinea
Ivory Coast
South Africa

Across Africa, less than a quarter felt their leaders had performed "well" but 52% said their leaders were doing their best. The remainder ticked the "badly" box. In South Africa, where President Jacob Zuma was booed at Mandela's memorial service this week, 55% said the leaders were "doing their best", with 20% saying their leaders had done badly and 24% saying they'd done well.

3. How do you think South Africa will progress without him?

In South Africa, accounting for half the total sample, half the respondents said the country faced a "struggle" without him while almost the same proportion said it would "succeed". Across Africa the proportions were almost identical given the weight of South Africa in the survey overall.

4. Which group in South Africa has most embraced Mandela's message of reconciliation?

In answer to a question most relevant to South Africa itself, nearly 60% of respondents said all races had equally embraced the aim of reconciliation.

5. What is the greatest challenge in your country in the post-Mandela era?

Of the total Africa sample, 37%, identified "corruption" as the biggest challenge, with 23% identifying the gap between rich and poor. Sixteen percent put HIV/AIDS as the greatest fear.

Can Mandela's legacy change the world?
World leaders celebrate Mandela's legacy

Of South African respondents 27% rated corruption as the biggest concern and 23% the wealth gap. In Nigeria by contrast, 57% rated corruption their greatest conern.

Mobile gives mass coverage

The Africa After Mandela survey for CNN International surveyed 10,000 people in 20 countries from the Ivory Coast to Mozambique using mobile market research methods developed by Jana Mobile, Inc. People who took the survey received a small payment of mobile airtime in return for answering five multiple-choice questions and two open-ended ones.

The survey findings were not statistically weighted as they are in public opinion polling, and may not be representative of the overall population of the continent.

Mobile phone use has skyrocketed in Africa, climbing from 9.2 million subscribers in 2000 to more than 648 million subscribers in 2011 -- more users than the U.S. or the European Union, according to the World Bank. Cheap handsets and low-cost connections mean they have spread to even the poorest areas and mobile is by far the fastest-growing way of connecting to the Internet in Africa.

More than three-quarters of respondents were between the ages of 15 and 25. Thirteen percent were aged 26 to 30, and 10% were older than 30. Across Africa as a whole 40% of the population is under 14 and 56% are between 15 and 64, according to data from the African Economic Outlook. In South Africa, 30 per cent are under 14.

The survey did not reach some of the most war-ravaged places in Africa, such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

CNN International conducted a similar project with Jana earlier this year to gauge the sentiment in the continent around the chances of an African winning the Papacy.

Last words on Mandela

CNN's request for answers to more open-ended questions about Mandela's legacy and what he meant to the thousands asked for views, produced an outpouring of poignant comments.

Mandela's legacy
What will Nelson Mandela's legacy be?

In a "word-cloud" which shows the phrases most-used in the thousands of replies: Hero. Great Man. Father. Freedom. Leader are most prominent.

"Africa's booming mobile economy is a subject we report on in the context of the pace of economic and social change across the continent so it is exciting to be able to participate in the phenomenon," said CNN International Digital General Manager, Peter Bale, explaining the intention behind the survey.

"Mass research by mobile is an emerging method which challenges traditional polling by its sheer scale, made possible by the growth of the Internet and mass adoption of mobile phones in even the poorest communities. It gives us an opportunity to add the views of thousands of people to the reporting we do."

"With Nelson Mandela's death, using a mass mobile survey allows us to collect the views of thousands," he said.

Jana grew out of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology health project in Kenya where blood supply data around the country was delivered by mobile phones in return for small payments of airtime. It now offers market research over mobile networks around the world.

The survey was conducted by mobile phone in 20 countries this week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A total of 9,286 people responded. They hailed from Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The respondents were active users of Jana's rewards platform, mCent, and may not be representative of the overall population.

Opinion: Optimism may be rife among the young, but economic freedom remains a dream

Challenge your own preconceptions: Take the 'ignorance' test

Part of complete coverage on
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Candles are lit under a portrait of Neslon Mandela before the funeral ceremony of South African former president Nelson Mandela in Qunu on December 15, 2013.
As 95 candles glowed in the background, mourners gathered for Nelson Mandela's state funeral Sunday.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
One candle burns for each year of Nelson Mandela's life, as family, friends, dignitaries and celebrities gather in his ancestral home, Qunu.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 1036 GMT (1836 HKT)
CNN's Robyn Curnow is inside the Mandela family compound in Qunu as the state funeral service is ongoing.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
Don't expect the man who fought to end apartheid and then led South Africa as its first black president to spend eternity pushing up just daisies.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0350 GMT (1150 HKT)
Not only is Nelson Mandela the former president of South Africa, but he is also a father, grandfather and even a great-grandfather.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0413 GMT (1213 HKT)
Nelson Mandela once said his wife, Graca Machel, makes him "bloom like a flower."
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0849 GMT (1649 HKT)
South African pays tribute and thanks Nelson Mandela at the former leader's funeral in Qunu.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0845 GMT (1645 HKT)
South African President Jacob Zuma sings at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0725 GMT (1525 HKT)
Anti-apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years imprisoned with his close friend and confidant Nelson Mandela.
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0408 GMT (1208 HKT)
The coffin carrying Nelson Mandela's body arrived Saturday in his ancestral village of Qunu, where he'll be buried.
December 14, 2013 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Crowds gather as Nelson Mandela's funeral convoy arrives at Mthatha Airport in South Africa's Eastern Cape.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1932 GMT (0332 HKT)
Beloved icon Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on the farm where he grew up. CNN's Robyn Curnow gives an inside look.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
It might be timely to put aside out-of-date and ill-informed views of Africa, and see it the way Africans seem to: With a high level of optimism.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Mandela emerged from prison to lead his country out of racist apartheid rule with a message of reconciliation that inspired the world.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The late South African President reflects on his imprisonment and his fight against apartheid.
December 10, 2013 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
Nelson Mandela, hailed for leading South Africa out of apartheid, wanted to be remembered as part of a collective and not in isolation.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Nelson Mandela
From revolutionary to revered statesman, Nelson Mandela left his inspirational mark on the world.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The only known footage of Nelson Mandela while at Robben Prison shows inside his cell and the former president in 1977.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1745 GMT (0145 HKT)
Mandela spent almost three decades in jail. But he had two Indian goddesses and a 17th century playwright for company.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
He was loved and admired the world over, profiled in books and movies. But even he has little-known facts buried in his biographies.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
A file photo showing South African Nelson Mandela taking the presidential oath on May 10, 1994 during his inauguration at the Union Building in Pretoria.
April 27, 1994, was the crowning moment in Nelson Mandela's life -- the day South Africa held its first elections open to citizens of every race.
From a village birth, to political activism, to prison and emergence as a worldwide leader.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
"No one is born hating another person ..." and more from Nelson Mandela in his own words
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
South African former President Nelson Mandela holds the Jules Rimet World cup, 15 May 2004 at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
"Sport has the power to change the world," Nelson Mandela once said -- and eloquently supported his claim.
June 27, 2013 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Browse through intimate images of Nelson Mandela, including the earliest known photograph believed to be taken in 1938.
December 6, 2013 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
The Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela" became anti-apartheid anthem, and led to Mandela's release from prison after 27 years.
How will you remember Mandela? Send us your stories, memories and photographs.