Saturday Morning Coffee

International Affairs Specialist by day, Blogger Enthusiast by night. This is a sneak peek into my world that should be enjoyed with ample time and a good and very strong cup of java.

Ideas, Perceptions and Realities

I found an interesting article in the BBC summarizing a study by the PEW Research Center in Washington, DC, which looked at common stereotypes often associated with many African nations.

The results are as follows…

1. 75% of South Africans think polygamy is “morally wrong” – bad news for their president, as Jacob Zuma took his third wife earlier this year and is engaged to a fourth. However, the survey also revealed some possible double-standards. While only 7% of Rwandans approved of polygamy (although this did include women), a rather higher number – 17% – of men said they had more than one wife.”

Interesting. You would have thought that a President’s actions would be reflective of the people that elected him and his example is far from that. Makes me wonder what happened on election day?

2. An overwhelming majority of respondents disapproved of homosexual behaviour. In three countries – Zambia, Kenya and Cameroon – this was a massive 98%. Interestingly, one of the countries with the highest numbers of people – 11% – accepting homosexuals is Uganda, where an MP is trying to get legislation passed which would punish homosexual acts with life in prison and even death in some cases. The former Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique were also relatively tolerant of homosexuality.

Ironic, no?

3. Africa is probably the world’s most religious continent, with more than 80% saying they believed in God in most countries. At least half of the Christians questioned expect Jesus Christ to return to earth during their lifetimes. In Ethiopia, 74% of Christians say they have experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person and in Ghana, 40% of Christians say they have had a direct revelation from God. About half of all Muslims expect to see the reunification of the Islamic world under a single ruler, or caliph, in their lifetimes.

Think of all the effort Christian and foreign missionaries spent in trying to spread the word of God throughout Africa – it obviously worked!  Interestingly, it seems as though Muslims have just the same conviction to their faiths.


4. Zimbabwe, where the Lemba people say they are the lost tribe of Israel, was not one of the countries surveyed. But 26% of Nigerian Christians said they traced their origins back to Israel or Palestine.

5. Belief in witchcraft is also common – about 40%; a similar percentage also visit traditional healers to cure sickness. Belief in witchcraft is highest in Tanzania with 93% – this is the country where witchdoctors say that magic potions are more effective if they contain body parts of people with albinism. Ethiopia had the lowest levels of belief in witchcraft – at just 17%. Belief that juju or sacred objects can prevent bad things happening was generally lower – between 20 and 30%. In Senegal, however, 75% thought such things worked – far higher than in Tanzania (49%). It may come as a surprise to learn that South Africa had the highest number of people – 52% – saying they took part in ceremonies of traditional religions, or honoured or celebrated their ancestors.

I wonder if witchcraft is like a religion to the people polled? Can witchcraft and Christianity or Islam overlap? I had once written a paper on the Haitian use of witchcraft as a means to maintain their identities during the slave trade and how they disguised it by using the names of Catholic saints and terminology. Historically, it was fascinating; socially, it was remarkable and I’m really not all that surprised that it still exists.

6. Predictably, there was also a religious split concerning alcohol, banned by Islam. Surprisingly, however, more Muslims in Chad (23%) approved of booze, than Ethiopian Christians (5%). This comes as a huge surprise to Ethiopia experts, however, who point out that it is traditional to welcome Orthodox Christian clergy with traditional honey beer when they visit your house. Maybe “alcohol” was only taken to mean spirits by some of the respondents?

This was surprising – isn’t alcohol extremely strict for practicing Muslims?

7. Attitudes to divorce showed a strong divide along religious lines in Nigeria. A massive 79% of Christians thought it was “morally wrong”, while among Muslims, a narrow majority (46-41%) accepted divorce.

Really? I wonder why?

8. In recent years, Islamist hardliners in Somalia and Nigeria have introduced strict punishment based on Sharia law, such as amputating the hands of thieves and even stoning to death for adultery. The majority of people disapproved of such Sharia punishments. In Nigeria, they were backed by about 40% of Muslims and less than 10% of Christians. However, a majority did approve of whippings and amputations in Senegal and Mali. In nearby Guinea-Bissau, even 50% of Christians backed them. This was double the rate among Muslims in Ethiopia (25%) – maybe it feels like a more realistic prospect to them, as they share a border with Somalia and most Muslim Ethiopians are ethnic Somalis.

I wrote about this a few posts ago and I am strongly against the practice.  I think the fact that people, Christians and Muslims, support it, the closer they are in proximity to Somalia and its people is certainly characteristic of the lawlessness of the country. But I’d have to question just how closely the people polled were following their faiths  when they supported such a policy.

9. The survey also asked about material well-being in the world’s poorest continent. Not so long ago, Cameroon regularly topped surveys of champagne consumption per head. However, a shocking 71% of Cameroonians surveyed said there were times in the past year when they did not have enough money to buy food. In Ethiopia, which is commonly seen as a country struggling to feed itself, the rate was far lower – at 30% – the lowest of all countries surveyed.

Remember the famine in Ethiopia during the ’80’s. The media really had a field day with that one; the photo-journalists documenting starving children, Band-Aid released a song, raising funds and OECD countries suddenly woke up and delivered badly needed food aid. I don’t think the world ever forgot. It’s not surprising then to hear that Ethiopia‘s access to food being more than double that than Cameroon. It’s also shocking to hear that Cameroon‘s consumption of champagne!?!?! Is it a french legacy Is champagne more important than food or is there just a handful of Cameroonian’s who are buying up the lion’s share of its imports? Interesting indeed.

10. Ethiopia did, however, have the lowest numbers of people – 7% – who said they regularly used the internet. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is striving to turn his country into Africa’s answer to Silicon Valley and is being helped by the arrival of several new fibre optic cables off the east coast of Africa. He will be encouraged by the finding that 30% of his countrymen – the highest number – regularly browsed the web. Mobile phones, were far more common – with 81% of respondents in Botswana owning one. Many countries reported more than 50% having phones but here, Rwanda lagged behind at just 35%.

Wait a minute…Rwanda – the one that suffered from a genocide a while back? I’ve been told that since then, Kigali has become a major international hotspot for non-profit’s, international organizations and the like, who obviously necessitate a need for broadband! I’m shocked that Ethiopia isn’t taking advantage of those fibre optic cables – they could definitely assist in wider communication tools. Mobile phones, on the other hand, signify developing economies and perhaps micro-finance schemes that provide small scale funding for communities to fuel entrepreneurship. I’d want to know those figures, comparing Botswana and Rwanda.

I know it’s geeky to find stats interesting, but they are! How else would we know what is working, what isn’t, what needs work and how the media has manipulated perceptions? I just read a fellow blogger, who was doing just that – using blogosphere to debate North American perceptions of development and through its interaction with theory and reality. Granted it is a bit academic, though good for some brain aerobics.

I’m surprisingly enlightened by this study and appreciate its publishing. I guess it’s more frustrating to realize that stereotypes still exist and its refreshing to get a little dose of reality every now and again.


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