Government repression and citizen support for democratic rights in Africa

Democratization, published online 06.02.2023. DOI:10.1080/13510347.2023.2173738

Public opinion polls conducted over the past five years point to a downward trend in African citizens’ support for civil society and media freedoms. This is despite the flourishing of civil society and media actors as well as the expansion of democracy on the continent in the post-Cold War period. What explains this downward trend in public support? We use cross-national polling data from the Afrobarometer survey to examine the decline in public support for freedoms of association and media between 2011 and 2018 in the African context, a continent that has experienced decades of democratization waves and pressure. Using a multilevel statistical modelling approach, we analyse the influence of government repression of civil society and media actors on citizen support for enhanced government control over freedoms of association and the media. Our study shows that the government’s repressive actions against civil society and media actors increases the probability that citizens will support control over association and media freedoms. Concerningly, this suggests government clampdowns on democratic rights influences the African publics to support such clampdowns, potentially legitimizing them.