- Across 33 countries, large majorities of African citizens exhibit high tolerance for people from different ethnic groups (91%), people of different religions (87%), immigrants (81%), and people living with HIV/AIDS (68%).
- Tolerance levels are particularly high in regions and countries that are ethnically and religiously diverse, suggesting that experience is an important factor in inculcating an attitude of tolerance among African citizens.
- Similarly, tolerance for people living with HIV/AIDS is highest in countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, providing further evidence that intolerance and stigmatization can be unlearned through personal encounters.
- A large majority of Africans, however, are intolerant of homosexual citizens. Across the 33 countries, an average of 78% of respondents say they would “somewhat dislike” or “strongly dislike” having a homosexual neighbour.
- But not all of Africa is homophobic. Majorities in four countries (Cape Verde, South Africa, Mozambique, and Namibia), and more than four in 10 citizens in three other countries, would like or not mind having homosexual neighbours.
Scholars have argued that tolerance is “the endorphin of the democratic body politic,” essential to free political and cultural exchange (Gibson & Gouws, 2005, p. 6). Seligson and Morino-Morales (2010, p. 37) echo this view when they contend that a democracy without tolerance for members of other groups is “fatally flawed.”
In this dispatch, we present new findings on tolerance in Africa from Afrobarometer Round 6 surveys in 33 countries in 2014/2015. While Africa is often portrayed as a continent of ethnic and religious division and intolerance, findings show high degrees of acceptance of people from different ethnic groups, people of different religions, immigrants, and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Proximity and frequent contact with different types of people seem to nurture tolerance, as suggested by higher levels of tolerance in more diverse countries and a strong correlation between acceptance of PLWHA and national HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.
A major exception to Africa’s high tolerance is its strongly negative attitude toward homosexuals. Even so, while the discourse on homosexuality has often painted Africa as a caricature of homophobia, the data reveal that homophobia is not a universal phenomenon in Africa: At least half of all citizens in four African countries say they would not mind or would welcome having homosexual neighbours. Analysis using a tolerance index based on five measures of tolerance points to education, proximity, and media exposure as major drivers of increasing tolerance on the African continent. This is consistent with socialization literature that suggests attitudes and values are not immutable; instead, they can be learned and unlearned.