Ties that bind? Evidence of both unity and division in 18 African countries

Carolyn Logan, Aminatou Seydou, and Luyando Mutale Katenda (2020)

Key facts

Type of publication
Policy paper
Elements of social cohesion
Intergroup relations
Identity/feeling of belonging
Geographical focus
Sub-Saharan Africa
Main thematic areas
Conflict & peacebuilding
Political institutions & governance
Concept & measurement


In this year of COVID-19, the ability of societies to work collectively to respond to challenges has taken center stage. Analysts study social bonds and social divisions precisely because they believe that societies that are more cohesive will be more capable of solving shared problems and promoting greater well-being and development.

How strong or weak are social bonds in Africa? Data from Afrobarometer surveys in 18 African countries shed new light on three key sources of identity and potential cleavage – ethnicity, religion, and economic status – while also examining the pull of collective national identity. In addition to measuring trust, Afrobarometer explores tolerance and identity-based discrimination.

Findings reveal the complexity of social cohesion in African countries. Generalized trust is exceedingly low – seemingly quite a bad sign for African societies – and the experience of discrimination, especially unfair treatment based on economic status, is relatively widespread. But at the same time, there is clear evidence of popular appreciation for diversity, as well as powerful adherence to overarching national identities.

While there is no simple answer to the question of how cohesive African societies are, the findings presented here suggest some new and perhaps more nuanced directions for understanding multi-dimensional social bonds and cleavages.

Publication_2020_Carolyn Logan, Aminatou Seydou, and Luyando Mutale Katenda

Explore the hub further

graph_concept_Social Cohesion Index

Social Cohesion Index

graph_data_SCORE Ukraine & SCORE Eastern Ukraine

SCORE Ukraine & SCORE Eastern Ukraine

graph_publication_Economic Inequality in Social Cohesion Among Older  Adults in Low and Middle‑Income Countries

Economic Inequality in Social Cohesion Among Older Adults in Low and Middle‑Income Countries

image_project_Refugee Management Support Programme

Refugee Management Support Programme