Africa’s Closing Political Space Marked By Less Freedom, Willingness To Trade Liberties For Security

Africans see their individual freedoms diminishing, and many are willing to give up at least some liberties in the name of security, new Afrobarometer survey findings indicate.

The fifth of Afrobarometer’s Pan-Africa Profiles, based on recent public-opinion surveys in 34 countries, reports that in most African countries, citizens’ assessments of how free they are, and of how cautious they must be in exercising their rights, have worsened considerably over the past decade. In addition, popular demand for freedom of association has weakened, and Africans express a widespread willingness to trade some freedoms for increased security.

The new report, available at, traces continental trends toward both greater government constraints on freedom and greater public tolerance for such constraints, perhaps fueled in part by fears of insecurity, instability, and/or extremist violence.

Key findings of the Report suggested that Support for the fundamental freedom of association remains strong, at 62% across 34 countries, but, support for freedom of association has shown modest but steady declines: Across 20 countries measured over the past decade, support has dropped 5 percentage points, from 66% to 61%.

“Over the past seven to 10 years, only six countries report significant increases in support for the right to associate freely, compared to 20 countries that have shown substantial declines, led by Zimbabwe (-23 percentage points). Support has decreased even in several of the continent’s leading democracies, including Tunisia (-20 points), Namibia (-18), Ghana (-9), Benin (-7), and South Africa (-7).”

According to the Report while a slim majority making 53% stand for the right to private communications, 43% are instead willing to accept government monitoring in the interests of security and people are about evenly divided on freedom of religious speech, with 49% backing complete freedom and 47% willing to tolerate government limits on religious speech.

Support for unrestricted freedom of movement is much lower, at just 35%, compared to 62% who are willing to countenance curfews, roadblocks, and other restrictions in the interests of greater security.

“Two-thirds (67%) of Africans say they are “somewhat” or completely” free to say what they think, but this represents a 7-percentage-point decline across 31 countries tracked since 2011/2013. Nearly all countries record declines, many of them substantial. And when it comes to political speech, a similar two-thirds majority (68%) say that people must “often” or “always” be careful of what they say about politics; across 20 countries, this proportion has increased by 9 percentage points over the past decade. Similar proportions say that people must be careful about which organizations they join (63%) and about how they vote (68”

Afrobarometer surveys

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries. Six rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2015, and Round 7 survey findings in 34 countries are being released in 2018/2019.

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