Ties that bind? Evidence of both unity and division in 18 African countries
Identity/feeling of belonging
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.