• Study

Faith in action

How religious organisations facilitate demographic change in West Africa

West Africa has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. It is projected to nearly double by 2050, when close to 800 million people are projected to live in the region. As a result, more people than ever will need education opportunities, jobs and health care services – all of which are necessary for people to lead a self-determined life with dignity, and which are already in short supply today. While fertility rates in West Africa are already declining, ongoing interventions are necessary to ensure this trajectory continues.

New opportunities for successful interventions that increase the acceptability and uptake of family planning can be found in partnerships with an unexpected group of stakeholders: faith-based organisations. In West Africa, religious actors and leaders enjoy a high level of trust. When it comes to sensitive topics such as family size or sexuality, three quarters of West Africans heed the counsel of their priest or imam. Though religious leaders in the region have traditionally been seen as opponents of family planning, a closer look reveals a more nuanced picture.

In the study commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, “Faith in action – How religious organizations advance demographic change,” the Berlin Institute explored how religious authorities and organisations in sixteen West African countries are engaging on critical sociodemographic issues – such as gender equality, family planning and sexuality – and advocating for improvements and greater self-determination in these areas.

Focus Areas: Demographic dividend, Population and development in Africa
published: 27th October 2022
Even if the end of global population growth is on the horizon, there are significantly more people of reproductive age now living on this planet than there were 60 years ago. Every year another 80 million people are added to the world’s population. In less-developed regions, such as West and Central Africa, that growth trend is expected to persist in the future. Since there is already a severe shortage of jobs, health services and education for many people in these countries, they live in precarious conditions.
Anyone not believing in God or feeling no allegiance to any other religion is likely to have difficulty finding other non-believers in most African countries. The situation is no different in West Africa. In Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Niger nearly one hundred percent of the population belong to a religious community. While most people in the coastal nations of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Liberia frequently consult their Bibles, inhabitants of Niger, Mali and Gambia are more likely to read the Koran. Though Christianity and Islam dominate the religious landscape, indigenous religions are also found in many countries. In addition, the major faiths also include a mix of indigenous traditions and religious customs in their religious practices.
In West African societies, families with many children are often religious, so it would be natural to assume a link between the two groups. This graph shows the fertility rate and the percentage of population who identify with a religion in 32 African countries. The point cloud is an indication that more factors are likely to account for that high number of children than just religion. For instance, believers in Ghana and Sierra Leone make up close to one hundred percent of the population, but women there only have an average of 3.9 to 4.2 children, or one to two children fewer than the West African average.


Catherina Hinz

Executive Director

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© Berlin-Institut

Colette Rose

Project Coordinator International Demography

Telefon: +49 - 30 31 01 95 91

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© Berlin-Institut


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