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The painting ''Mandela'' by Chinese artist Li Bin in Johannesburg
The painting ''Mandela'' by Chinese artist Li Bin in Johannesburg

Neighbors don't always need good fences. The weekly Jeune Afrique reports some encouraging findings in a wide-ranging study on tolerance for diversity taken in 33 African countries. Overall, the results indicated growing levels of tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity, though this was contrasted with lingering prejudice against homosexuals.

Research firm Afrobarometer conducted the poll in 2014 and 2015, asking 50,000 Africans how they felt about living next door to members of a different religious or ethnic group, gays, migrants or people who are HIV-positive. "We chose the figure of the neighbor because in our societies, it's someone we are really close to," said Richard Houessou, one of Afrobarometer's directors, in an interview with Jeune Afrique.

Most Africans in the study were unperturbed by ethnic and religious differences, and ethnic tolerance was strongest — reported by 99% of respondents — in Gabon and Senegal.

Religious tolerance, while relatively widespread, was more commonly reported in sub-Saharan states than in northern, mainly Islamic states. While in most sub-Saharan states the vast majority of those polled expressed openness to having neighbors of a different religion, in Morocco those toleratnt of the idea dipping to 67%, in Tunisia to 65% and in Niger, all the way down to 51%.

Gay neighbors are far less welcome in Africa, the poll found, with an average of 21% of survey participants in the 33 states saying they wouldn't mind living next to homosexuals, though younger Africans tended to be more tolerant than their elders. South Africa and Mozambique were the most tolerant states towards gays, with 67% and 56% of respondents, respectively, saying they wouldn't mind having a gay neighbor. By comparison, only 3% of Senegalese, 4% of Guinean and 5% of Nigerian and Ugandan respondents shared this view.

Afrobarometer also averaged the five measures of tolerance. By this standard, Namibia, Burundi and Togo were the most tolerant states, and Tunisia was the least.

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