IS Africa’s freedom slipping? Africa’s closing political space, marked by less freedom and a willingness to trade liberties for security, has seen the continent’s inhabitants’ 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 traces continental trends toward both greater government constraints on freedom and greater public tolerance for such constraints, perhaps fuelled in part by fears of insecurity, instability, and/or extremist violence.

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Key findings

On support (or demand) for individual freedoms:

Support for the fundamental freedom of association remains strong, at 62% across 34 countries.

Nonetheless, support for freedom of association has shown modest, but steady declines: Across 20 countries measured over the past decade, support has dropped by five percentage points, from 66% to 61%.

Over the past seven to 10 years, only six countries reported 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).

On willingness to trade freedom for security:

While a slim majority (53%) stand for the right to private communications, 43% are instead willing to accept government monitoring in the interests of security.

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.

On the extent of freedom of expression in general, and political speech in particular:

Two-thirds (67%) of Africans say they are “somewhat” or “completely” free to say what they think, but this represents a seven-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 people must “often” or “always” be careful of what they say about politics; across 20 countries, this proportion has increased by nine percentage points over the past decade.

Similar proportions say people must be careful about which organisations they join (63%) and about how they vote (68%).

Six rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2015, and Round 7 survey findings in 34 countries are being released in 2019.

Sample sizes of 1 200 to 2 400 yield country-level results with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two to three percentage points at a 95% confidence level.