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Africa: Tolerance and Intolerance in Perspective

AfricaFocus Bulletin
March 16, 2016 (160316)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

" In results published on Zero Discrimination Day (1 March), Afrobarometer reports that survey respondents in 33 countries exhibit largely tolerant attitudes toward social differences, with the major exception of homosexuality. Even so, 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. Tolerance scores vary widely by country/region, and analysis points to education, media consumption, and exposure to a diverse population as major drivers of increasing tolerance on the African continent." - Afrobarometer

According to these survey results, on average 91% of respondents in these 33 countries are tolerant of different ethnicities, 87% of different religions, 81% of immigrants or foreign workers, 68% of people living with HIV/AIDS, but only 21% of homosexuals. As noted in the full Afrobarometer report, this data from 2014-2015 does not cover all African countries, while trend data is not available for the same question to show changes over time.

Questions about the differences between what people say and what they do are appropriate for all public opinion surveys, in Africa as for the United States and any other part of the world. But contrary to popular perceptions, polling in Africa, pioneered by Afrobarometer and now emulated by many other agencies, including Gallup, is now well-institutionalized, despite the difficulties associated with interviewing in many languages and multiple other logistical challenges.

What one finds notable about these results depends on what one compares them with. But there is no doubt that the base of 33 countries shows large variations, including between countries, between rural and urban areas, and by levels of education. This, the authors of the report contend, shows the potential for change.

[Comparable data with countries outside Africa is limited, since finding comparable questions for many countries is a challenge. However, wave 6 of the World Values Survey ( has a somewhat comparable question: who would you not like to have as neighbors? Detailed data are available and could be used for some country comparisons.]

This editor's note (and editor's time) is far from adequate for such a detailed comparison. But a quick review of data would suggest that under some circumstances, opinion can change rapidly. For example, in the United States, according to the NORC surveys from 1973 to 2010 (, in 1973, 79% of respondents said homosexuality was "always wrong" or "almost always" wrong. By 2010 that percentage was down to 46.9%, and has almost certainly dropped since then. On the World Values Survey wave 6 (2010-2014), only 20.4% of Americans said they "would not like" to have homosexuals as neighbors, as compared to 39% in 1989-93.

For extensive background data on the Afrobarometer surveys as well as analyses of multiple other topics covered by the surveys, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Africans tolerant on religion, ethnicity, nationality, and HIV, but not on homosexuality, Afrobarometer survey finds

News Release

Maputo, Mozambique, 1 March 2016

[Excerpts below have text only. For graphics and full report go to the link above.] Contrary to common portrayals, Africans express high degrees of tolerance for people from different ethnic groups, people of different religions, immigrants, and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), newly released Afrobarometer survey findings show.

In results published on Zero Discrimination Day (1 March), Afrobarometer reports that survey respondents in 33 countries exhibit largely tolerant attitudes toward social differences, with the major exception of homosexuality. Even so, 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.

Tolerance scores vary widely by country/region, and analysis points to education, media consumption, and exposure to a diverse population as major drivers of increasing tolerance on the African continent.

The report, titled "Good neighbours? Africans express high levels of tolerance for many, but not for all," is available in English, French, and Portuguese at

Key findings

  • 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 African citizens, 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, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa), and more than four in 10 citizens in three other countries, would like or not mind having homosexual neighbours.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across Africa. Five rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2013, and findings from Round 6 surveys (2014/2015) are currently being released. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent's choice with nationally representative samples that yield countrylevel results with margins of error of +/-2% (for samples of 2,400) or +/3% (for samples of 1,200) at a 95% confidence level.

Interested readers should watch for additional findings to be released over the coming months (see and follow the conversation at #VoicesAfrica on Twitter).

[33 countries with this question included in Round 6, 2014-2015:

Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi , Mali , Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe


For more information, please contact:
Brian Howard , Afrobarometer , Telephone: 001-713-624-0373 , Email:

Good neighbours? Africans express high levels of tolerance for many, but not for all

Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 74 | Boniface Dulani, Gift Sambo, and Kim Yi Dionne

March 1, 2016

About the authors:

Boniface Dulani is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Malawi and Afrobarometer's operations manager for fieldwork (southern and francophone Africa). Email:

Gift Sambo is a research associate at the Institute of Public Opinion and Research in Zomba, Malawi. Email:

Kim Yi Dionne is Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, United States. Email:


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.


The State of Tolerance in Africa

A common narrative of Africa is that most citizens are intolerant of people who are different – whether that difference be based on ethnicity, religion, nationality, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. Responses to the Afrobarometer questions on tolerance suggest that this generalization is incorrect. Instead, majorities in the 33 countries say they would like or would not mind living next to people from four of five categories: someone from a different ethnicity (91%), someone with a different religion (87%), an immigrant or foreign worker (81%), and a person living with HIV/AIDS (68%). It is only on the question of homosexuality that a majority (78%) of Africans exhibit deeply intolerant attitudes (Figure 1).


Respondents were asked: For each of the following types of people, please tell me whether you would like having people from this group as neighbours, dislike it, or not care: People of a different religion? People from other ethnic groups? Homosexuals? People who have HIV/AIDS? Immigrants or foreign workers?

[The possible answers were: Somewhat dislike / Strongly dislike / Would not care / Somewhat like / Strongly like]


On a continent that has become synonymous with ethnic conflict, it is telling that the least- disliked group – liked or tolerated as neighbours by nine of 10 respondents – are people of a different ethnicity. While this does not imply the end of ethnic conflicts, it suggests that decades of close interaction and inter-marriage could gradually be helping to dilute the power of ethnicity as a source of division and conflicts.

Only slightly more respondents object to living next to people of a different religion or next to immigrants; both are accepted by more than eight in 10 Africans. Considerably fewer citizens – though still a two-thirds majority – would like or accept having neighbours who are living with HIV/AIDS, which suggests that there is still a significant level of stigma attached to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in some parts of the continent.

At the negative extreme, the average citizen in the 33 countries is opposed to having homosexual neighbours. This is perhaps not surprising, given that a majority of the continent's countries criminalize homosexual activities. Only about one in five respondents (21%) say they would not be opposed to having homosexuals as neighbours. (For detailed response frequencies, see Appendix Tables A.2-A.6.)

The data show marked differences in tolerance between urban and rural Africans, with the former exhibiting higher degrees of tolerance on all five measures (Figure 2].


Tolerance for people of a different ethnicity

The discourse on African politics often highlights how ethnic fractionalization contributes to political polarization and interethnic conflicts. These inter-ethnic rivalries threaten democratic consolidation, undermine nation-building efforts, and impair economic performance (Posner, 2004; Branch & Cheeseman, 2009; Bertocchi & Guerzoni, 2012; Jackson, 2002; Berman, 1998; Easterly & Levine, 1997; Goren, 2005; Bratton, 2011). While this perspective suggests high levels of intolerance for people from different ethnic groups, Afrobarometer findings show that this is not the case. Instead, 91% of respondents across 33 countries say they would not mind or would actually like having people from a different ethnic group as their neighbours. The lowest proportion of respondents who express tolerance for people of different ethnic groups is 74% in Morocco and Swaziland, while nearly every Senegalese and Gabonese citizen (99%) would welcome or accept non-coethnic neighbours (Figure 4).


Tolerance for people of a different religion

Among Afrobarometer Round 6 respondents, 55% identify as Christians while 32% identify as Muslims. Of all 36 countries surveyed in Round 6, 25 have a majority Christian population, 10 have a majority Muslim population, and one (Mauritius) has a Hindu majority. Although most African countries have a dominant religion, most also have a sizeable number of citizens who belong to minority religions. 2 In half of the 36 surveyed countries, at least 10% of the population belong to a minority religious grouping. Within this context of religious pluralism, tolerance for people belonging to different religions is crucial for social harmony and peaceful coexistence.

While almost nine in 10 Africans (87%) express tolerance for people belonging to different religions, citizens in majority Muslim countries, especially countries with low religious diversity, are relatively less tolerant of having neighbours of different religions. This is particularly true for Niger, Tunisia, and Morocco (all with 100% Muslim populations), as well as Guinea (88% Muslim) (Figure 6).


Tolerance for immigrants

Although very few African countries are net recipients of immigrants, the findings suggest that there is a high level of acceptance of immigrants among citizens on the continent. Overall, 81% of Africans say they would like or not mind having neighbours who are immigrants or foreign workers (Figure 7). This places Africans among the most migrant- tolerant people in the world. For example, in the most recent wave of the World Values Surveys (2010-2014), more than one-third of Middle Easterners (36%) and Asians (34%) expressed opposition to having migrant neighbours, compared to less than one-fifth of Africans.

Only in a handful of African countries do sizeable minorities express rejection of immigrants: Lesotho (42%), Zambia (35%), Mauritius (34%), Madagascar (33%), Morocco (33%), and South Africa (32%). The case of Lesotho is particularly interesting, as a large proportion of the country's male workforce is employed as migrant labour in neighbouring South Africa, and yet more than four in 10 citizens don't want to live next to immigrants. South Africa, which in recent years has experienced widespread xenophobic attacks against foreigners, illustrates the violent implications of antiimmigrant attitudes (Chingwete, 2016).


Tolerance for people living with HIV/AIDS

The notion that proximity and regular interaction between different groups can help to break down intolerant attitudes is also reflected in tolerance levels for HIV-positive people. In 26 of the 33 countries surveyed, a majority of citizens say they would like or would not mind having PLWHA as their neighbours (Figure 8).

This still leaves substantial proportions of the population (31% on average) who would object to having HIV-positive neighbours, an indication of the continued power of HIV-related stigma. Moreover, almost eight in 10 respondents in Niger (79%) and Madagascar (77%) express intolerance for PLWHA, which is also the majority view in Sierra Leone (73%), Guinea (69%), Morocco (57%), and Mali (53%).

Tolerance for PLWHA is strongly correlated with HIV/AIDS prevalence at the country level. 3 Put simply, citizens in countries that have high HIV/AIDS prevalence tend to exhibit high tolerance levels for PLWHA. This is perhaps not very surprising, as among countries where HIV/AIDS prevalence is very high, especially in the Southern Africa region, intolerance for PLWHA might be tantamount to rejecting one's close family members or friends. Although the strong correlation between tolerance and prevalence does not imply causality, we speculate that proximity and frequent interaction might be important in influencing tolerant attitudes toward PLWHA.


Tolerance for homosexuals

Africa's negative attitudes toward homosexuals are documented in the news media and, to a lesser extent, the academic literature (Reddy, 2001, 2002; Potgieter, 2006). Afrobarometer survey data suggest this narrative to be true, as only 21% of all citizens across the 33 countries say they would like or would not mind having homosexual neighbours (Figure 9). However, there are important country-level differences that may be overlooked in the aggregate numbers.

In four African countries, a majority of citizens express acceptance of neighbours who are homosexual: Cape Verde (74% who would strongly/somewhat like or would not care), South Africa (67%), Mozambique (56%), and Namibia (55%). In three other countries, more than 40% of citizens say they are not opposed to having homosexual neighbours: Mauritius (49%), São Tomé and Principe (46%), and Botswana (43%). The portrayal of Africa as universally homophobic is thus not supported by these findings. Still, intolerance toward homosexuals remains widespread, reaching near-unanimity in Senegal (97%) as well as Guinea, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Niger (all 95%).

The case of Mozambique offers an interesting demonstration of how policy change may interact with popular attitudes. In 2014, Mozambique adopted a new penal code that decriminalizes homosexuality (BBC News, 2015). Since there are no available data on Mozambicans' attitudes toward homosexuals prior to decriminalization, we may debate as to whether relatively high acceptance precipitated decriminalization or the legal reform has had the added benefit of influencing attitudinal change among the wider citizenry. The two countries expressing the highest tolerance for homosexual citizens, Cape Verde and South Africa, also do not criminalize homosexuality. However, in some cases, ordinary citizens are ahead of law reform by embracing LGBTQ rights at a time when some practices are illegal in their countries. This is true in Namibia and Mauritius, two countries with comparatively high acceptance of homosexuals despite legislation that make homosexuality a crime.

Drivers of tolerance

In addition to the likely positive effects of proximity and contact mentioned above, tolerance appears to be driven, at least in part, by several socio-demographic characteristics (Figure 12). Education, in particular, shows an important effect in inculcating a culture of tolerance. Overall, people who have at least a secondary school education tend to exhibit higher tolerance than the less educated. The younger generation exhibits higher tolerance than its elders. Similarly, men and urban residents express higher tolerance levels than women and rural residents.

Another variable that shows a positive, albeit weak, relationship with tolerance is media exposure. On average, African citizens who are regularly exposed to news through radio, television, newspapers, the Internet, and social media are more likely to demonstrate tolerant attitudes than those who have no or low media exposure.

These findings suggest important policy lessons in the quest to promote tolerant attitudes on the continent. First, investment in education matters in nurturing a tolerant population. Second, news media with broad coverage can play an important role in promoting tolerance among African citizens.

With regard to religion, the findings suggest substantial differences in tolerant attitudes between Africans who identify as Christians and those who identify as Muslims. The mean tolerance scores for Christians (3.19) and Muslims (2.87) reflect a 10% difference between the continent's two main religious groups.



Africans express high levels of tolerance for people of different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities. A large majority also express tolerance for people living with HIV/AIDS, though HIVrelated stigma remains a reality in most countries. Africans are far less tolerant of homosexuals, though even on this issue, countrylevel variations prevent the continent from being painted as uniformly intolerant.

While our data do not yet permit analysis of trends over time, the findings of this study tell us that tolerance in Africa is not a constant. Rather, it can be nurtured and learned. In addition to the likely effects of contact with people of different backgrounds, education and news media exposure are drivers of a tolerant society, as more educated individuals and those who have greater exposure to the media tend to embrace more tolerant attitudes. The fact that younger citizens are more tolerant than their elders also bodes well for an increasingly tolerant future in Africa.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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