Gallup, August 25, 2010, Bob Tortora
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Belief in witchcraft is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, according to recent Gallup surveys, and potentially affects how those who believe see their lives. Studies in 18 countries show belief varies, but on average, 55% of residents personally believe in witchcraft.
Highlighting the potential implications these beliefs have, those in sub-Saharan Africa who believe in witchcraft rate their lives — their evaluative wellbeing — worse than those who don’t. Gallup asks respondents to rate the status of their lives on a ladder scale, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, with steps numbered 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life. Those who believe in witchcraft rate their lives at a 4.3 on average, while those who do not believe or don’t have an opinion rate their lives higher on the scale, at 4.8 on average.
Overall, those who are more likely to believe are more likely to be older and less educated. They are also more likely to have lower household incomes and say they are getting by or struggling to get by on this income. But after taking these factors into account, across all demographics, evaluative wellbeing is still lower among those who believe in witchcraft. Even among the most educated, who are the least likely to say they believe in witchcraft, those who believe rate their lives worse than those who don’t.
Gallup surveys and others, such as the one the Pew Center conducted,* document that many in sub-Saharan Africa believe in witchcraft and “other elements of African traditions.” This widespread belief presents numerous challenges for nongovernmental organizations and civil society working in sub-Saharan Africa. Their strategies to educate the public about HIV/AIDS, for example, must consider that many believe witchcraft causes the disease.
A UNICEF report recently focused on another newer challenge, the increasing number of children who are being accused of witchcraft and are abused or killed. The organization recommends “research to get a good understanding of the phenomenon and its causes.” Gallup’s findings also indicate there is more to learn about the cumulative effects of such beliefs on wellbeing.