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Key findings
  • On average across 34 countries, more than eight out of 10 Africans express tolerant attitudes toward people of different ethnicities (91%), religions (87%), and nationalities (82%), saying they “would strongly like,” “would somewhat like,” or “would not care” if they lived next door to them. But only one in five (20%) express tolerance toward people of different sexual identities or orientations1
  • Tolerance toward people from other ethnic groups is nearly universal in six West African countries – Gabon (99%), Côte d’Ivoire (99%), Senegal (98%), Benin (97%), Togo (97%), and Liberia (96%). The only country where fewer than three-fourths of adults express tolerance toward other ethnicities is eSwatini (72%)
  • Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire also top the list in religious tolerance (both 98%). Tolerance toward other religions is lowest in a handful of predominantly Muslim countries – Niger (56%), Sudan (65%), Morocco (69%), Guinea (74%), and Tunisia (74%)– along with predominantly Christian eSwatini (69%)
  • On average across 34 countries, three out of 10 Africans say members of their ethnic group are “sometimes” (17%) or “often” or “always” (13%) treated unfairly by the government. This perception is highest in Togo (61% at least “sometimes”), Kenya (53%), Gabon (52%), Nigeria (51%), and Cameroon (50%)
  • About one in eight respondents (13%) say they personally suffered discrimination based on their ethnicity during the previous year, a proportion that ranged up to about one in four in Nigeria (28%), Namibia (25%), and Gabon (24%)

“We’re all in this together” is a mantra of the COVID-19 crisis as leaders and activists argue for global and all-of-society responses to the pandemic (e.g. World Health Organization, 2020; African Union, 2020). At the same time, public fears have highlighted social fissures through acts of intolerance and violence against Chinese people, citizens of Asian descent in many countries, and even Africans in China (e.g. DW, 2020; Guy, 2020; Kandil, 2020; Al Jazeera, 2020).

If a pandemic “drives home the essential interconnectedness of our human family,” as UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said (United Nations, 2020), it may also stress-test the social fabric of our societies and democracies.

How “together” are African societies? Afrobarometer data collected in 2016/2018 suggest that Africans have a strong foundation of tolerance toward other ethnicities, religions, and nationalities on which to build in overcoming the pandemic and working toward the “just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world” envisioned by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015). Cabo Verde, Namibia, and São Tomé and Príncipe stand out as particularly tolerant countries in Africa.

But tolerance toward people of different sexual identity or orientation remains remarkably weak, even among younger respondents, despite some progress in certain countries. Minorities still experience discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender, or disability, and majorities in some countries report that the government treats their ethnic group unfairly.

Brian Howard

Brian is the head of publications at Afrobarometer