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News release

50 years of freedom of association: Right is firmly established, though far from absolute, in Africa (Afrobarometer findings)

16 Dec 2016
A half-century after the United Nations formalized the freedoms of assembly and association, eight out of 10 Africans feel at least “somewhat free” to join any political organisation they want, a new Afrobarometer report shows.

Key findings

  • On average across 36 countries, eight in 10 Africans feel at least “somewhat free” to join any political organisation they want, including a majority (58%) who feel “completely free” to do so. About one in six citizens (17%) say they feel “not very” or “not at all” free to associate as they wish.
  • “Complete” freedom of association is a minority perception in 15 of 36 countries. While more than eight in 10 citizens feel “completely free” in Senegal (85%), Malawi (85%), Ghana (84%), and Botswana (83%), fewer than one-third say the same in Algeria (32%), Zimbabwe (30%), Sudan (27%), Egypt (27%), and Swaziland (7%).
  • Across 20 countries tracked since 2008/2009, the perception of “complete” freedom of association has been stable. In six of these countries, however, this perception declined significantly between 2008 and 2015, led by drops of 23 percentage points in Benin and 21 points in Burkina Faso (Figure 2). In four countries, the proportion of citizens who feel “completely free” increased significantly: Uganda (by 18 percentage points), South Africa (15 points), Namibia (14%), and Cape Verde (5 points).
  • Women are somewhat less likely to feel “completely free” than men, 55% vs. 60%. The perception of being free increases modestly with age.
  • In general, perceived freedom of association is correlated with higher levels of actual engagement in civic and political activities.
  • Freedom of association also goes hand in hand with democracy: Citizens who feel free to associate also tend to feel free to speak and vote their minds, and to see their countries as well-functioning democracies.
  • Despite high perceptions of freedom of association and its linkages with democracy, one-third (32%) of Africans “agree” or “agree very strongly” that governments “should be able to ban any organisation that goes against its policies”.

These Afrobarometer findings are being released today (16 December), the 50th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Based on interviews with about 54,000 citizens in 36 African countries, they are detailed in Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 128, titled “After 50 years, freedom of association is firmly established, though far from absolute, in Africa,” available in English and French.

Download the full press release.