Religion in Africa: Tolerance and trust in leaders are high, but many would allow regulation of religious speech



Africans overwhelmingly identify with religious faith, trust their religious leaders, and express tolerance of people of other faiths, a new Afrobarometer analysis shows.

Nonetheless, in most countries, a majority of Africans favour civil over religious law as the basis for the government (though Niger, Morocco, and Sudan are exceptions). And nearly half say the government should have the power to regulate religious speech in the name of public safety.

Findings from national surveys in 34 African countries show religious affiliation, as well as tolerance for other religions, are cross-cutting characteristics of African publics – majorities in all countries claim religious affiliation and profess tolerance for those of other faiths.

Religious leaders are more trusted and less widely seen as corrupt than any other group of public leaders, although both of these positive perceptions have weakened somewhat since the previous survey round.

Afrobarometer survey

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network that provides reliable data on Africans’ experiences and evaluations of the quality of life, governance, and democracy. Seven rounds of surveys were completed in up to 38 countries between 1999 and 2018. Round 8 surveys are planned in at least 35 countries in 2019/2020.

Key findings

  • More than nine in 10 Africans (95%) identify with a religion. A majority say they are Christians (56%), while one in three (34%) self-identify as Muslim, although of course, these proportions vary widely by country (Figure 1 and Figure 2). Only 4% say they are atheists or agnostics or have no religion.
  • On average across 34 countries, three in 10 Africans say they are leaders (6%) or active members (24%) of religious groups that meet outside of regular worship services. Liberians (58%), Kenyans (56%), and Zambians (55%) are most likely to say they are active in religious groups, while predominantly Muslim countries such as Tunisia (2%) and Morocco  (2%) are least likely to report membership in religious groups outside of regular worship  (Figure 3). Younger and urban respondents are slightly less active in such groups than older and rural citizens (Figure 4).
  • More than four in 10 Africans (43%) say they contacted a religious leader at least once during the previous year, including 19% who say they did so “often.” Kenyans (71%), Ugandans (63%), and Zambians (58%) are most likely to report contact with a religious leader (Figure 5). Africans are more likely to contact religious leaders than other types of public officials, such as traditional leaders (31%), local government councillors (22%), or members of Parliament (11%) (Figure 6). More men than women report contact with a  religious leader (46% vs. 39%), and contact increases with respondents’ age, ranging from 38% of 18- to 25-year-olds to 49% of those over age 65 (Figure 7).
  • Religious leaders are more widely trusted and less widely seen as corrupt than any other group of public leaders. However, both of these positive perceptions have weakened somewhat since the previous survey round (Figure 8).

Download the full Afrobarometer “Religion in Africa” report