Uganda: Survey data shows strong faith in God and little faith in government

  • Pilgrims walk up to the outdoor compound of Mt. Sion Prayer Centre for its opening exorcism and healing service.

One insightful Ugandan claimed that, for several reasons, including the legacy of the 1970s and ’80s political conflict, Ugandans will never fully tell the truth to any survey. This may be true, and could be reflected, ironically, in the low level of social trust measured below. Nonetheless, the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa,” could help highlight a number of aspects of Ugandan culture.1 The study does not differentiate between Catholics and other Christians, but provides a useful frame for understanding Catholicism in Uganda. 

In the Pew study, 86% of Ugandans identify as Christian, 13% as Muslim. 53% of Christians identify as Catholic, 46% Protestant. In contrast to neighboring African countries in the survey, the number of Catholics in Uganda continues to grow, according to Pew. There are practically no non-Christian animists to speak of (0% in the survey), so the growth of Catholicism comes largely at the expense of Anglicans (Church of Uganda) and to a lesser extent, Muslims. 38% of respondents in the Pew survey said they were raised Catholic, but 45% said they were now Catholic; 44% said they were raised Protestant, but 39% are now Protestant (this despite the growth of Pentecostal churches to 7% of the population). 

Ugandans and Societal Problems

29% of Ugandans surveyed are satisfied with the way things are going overall in their country today. 7% think the economic situation is very good, 39% think it is good. 31% saw it as somewhat bad and 22% as very bad. Ugandans rate their personal situation almost exactly the same way.

57% of Ugandans say their lives have improved since 5 years ago; 70% think their lives will be better in 5 years.

Pew asked Ugandans to rate the seriousness of the following as problems in the country: crime, conflict between religious groups, corrupt political leaders, conflict between ethnic groups, and unemployment. They could rank these as very big, moderately big, small or no problem.

  • 25% of Ugandans cited conflict between religious groups as a “very big problem.”
  • 34% of Ugandans cited ethnic conflict as a “very big problem.”
  • 68% of Ugandans cited crime as a “very big problem.”
  • 72% of Ugandans cited corrupt political leaders as a “very big problem”
  • 81% of Ugandans cited unemployment as a “very big problem.”

23% of Ugandans think most people can be trusted.

55% say that at some time in the past year they did not have enough money to buy food; 63% lacked money to get healthcare in the last year.

69% of Ugandans believe they should rely on a democratic form of government to solve their country's problems. 29% believe that the country should rely on a leader with a strong hand to solve they country's problems.

67% agree that they don’t have any say about what the government does.

73% of Ugandans surveyed think that Western movies, music and television undermine morality, even as 55% of Ugandans say they like Western movies, music and television.

79% of Ugandans believe it is the responsibility of the government to take care of very poor people who can’t take care of themselves.

Ugandans and Religion

97% of Ugandan respondents said they believe in God. 77% of these were “absolutely certain” of this belief. 64% believed in a “Personal God,” while 28% saw God as an “impersonal force.”

86% of Ugandans (85% of Christians) surveyed say that religion is very important in their lives. This put them in the middle range for Africans, but significantly above all of Latin America and in an entirely in a different category from Europe and North America.

91% of Ugandans believe in angels, and 78% in miracles. 

36% said they believe in evil spirits, and 29% in witchcraft. 32% believe in the ability to cast curses and spells that cause harm. 26% believed that sacrifices to spirits or ancestors can protect them from bad things happening. 30% believe that certain spiritual people can prevent bad things from happening, and 27% believe that shrines and sacred objects can prevent bad things from happening. All of these are marks of traditional African religion. When Pew combined these factors, the survey concluded that 18% of Ugandans ranked “high” on the scale. Compared to 18 other African countries surveyed, Uganda fell in the lower half in terms of adherence to African traditional beliefs.

69% of Ugandans believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.

82% of Ugandans surveyed say people are very free to practice their own religion and think this is a good thing, but 64% of Ugandan Christians favor “making the Bible the official law of the land” in Uganda (66% of Muslims want the same for Sharia law).

82% of Ugandans say that it is important for political leaders to have strong religious beliefs, and 69% of Ugandans say that it is okay if political leaders’ faith is different than their own. 

40% of Ugandans believe religious leaders keep out of political matters – 58% said religious leaders should express their views on political questions.

14% of Ugandan Christians believe Christians are very often treated unfairly by the government, 9% say it happens somewhat often, 22% say not too often, 45% say never.

19% of Ugandan Christians describe themselves as Evangelical, 14% as Pentecostal, 21% as Charismatic.

33% of Ugandan Christians see a conflict between being a devout religious person and living in a modern society.

Muslims and Christians together

25% of Ugandans surveyed say religious conflict is a very big problem in the country.  

58% of Muslims associate the word “tolerant” with Christians, and 74% of Christians associate the world “tolerant” with Muslims.

51% of Christians and 44% of Muslims say they generally trust people with different religious values than them.

64% of Ugandan Christians and 54% of Ugandan Muslims said they knew little or nothing about the others’ faith.

32% of Ugandan Christians and 37% of Ugandan Muslims had a positive view of the other’s religion.

22% of Ugandan Christians and 29% of Ugandan Muslims said that the use of violence against civilians in defense of religion is sometimes or often justified.

Christian Beliefs and Practices in Uganda

77% of Ugandan Christians were “absolutely certain” of their conviction in God, 16% fairly certain, 3% “not too certain.” 49% of Christians saw their religion as the one true faith leading to eternal life, while 46% saw other faiths as roads to eternal life.

93% of Christians said they believed in only one God, 3% in more than one god.

93% of Christians said they believe in heaven as a place of eternal reward.  76% said they believed in hell as a place of eternal punishment. 53% said they believe in reincarnation. 

62% of Christians surveyed in Uganda believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime.

71% of Christians surveyed said the Bible is to be taken as the literal word of God.

81% of Christians surveyed claimed to attend church weekly or more often.

62% of Ugandan Christians surveyed claimed to pray at least once a day. 24% say they have received definite answers to specific prayer requests, a very low number compared to African neighbors.

68% of Ugandan Christians surveyed claimed to fast at times like Lent.

40% of Ugandan Christians say they have witnessed or experienced a divine healing of an illness or injury (this is on the low end for Africa).

27% of Ugandan Christians say they have received a direct revelation from God.

59% of Ugandan Christians say they have directly witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.

74% of Ugandan Christians listen to religious radio or watch religious TV.

56% of Ugandan Christians associate the word “devout” with their fellow Christians, 86% associate “honest,” 14% associate “violent,” 23% associate “selfish,” 21% associate “immoral,” 20% associate “arrogant,” 74% associate “tolerant,” 77% associate “respectful of women.”

49% of Ugandan Christians completely agree, and 35% mostly agree, that they have a duty to try to convert others to their faith.  

52% of Ugandan Christians believe God will grant wealth and good health to those who have enough faith.

26% of all Ugandan Christians describe themselves as “born again.” [Note that 7% of Ugandan Christians in the Pew studies belong to Pentecostal churches. Some of the rest of these would be Anglican (Church of Uganda) or Catholic.] 21% of Ugandan Christians describe themselves as Charismatic Christians.”

24% of Ugandan Christians agreed that only men should be allowed to serve in religious leadership roles, such as pastor, priest or imam.

40% of Ugandan Christians completely agree, and 36% mostly agree, that there are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong.

47% of Ugandan Christians completely agree, and 19% mostly agree, that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.

69% of Ugandan Christians see divorce as morally wrong.

84% of Ugandan Christians see prostitution as morally wrong.

76% of Ugandan Christians see euthanasia as morally wrong.

78% of Ugandan Christians see suicide as morally wrong.

61% of Ugandan Christians see drinking alcohol as morally wrong.

69% of Ugandan Christians see sex between people not married to each other as morally wrong.

65% of Ugandan Christians see polygamy as morally wrong.

76% of Ugandan Christians see abortion as morally wrong.

80% of Ugandan Christians see homosexual behavior as morally wrong.

31% of Ugandan Christian men reported having more than one wife.

Christians and Traditional African Practices

7% of Ugandan Christians say they know a great deal about “ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions;” 25% know “some;” 31% “not very much;” 32% “nothing at all.”

28% of Ugandan Christians reported having traditional African sacred objects at home, such as shrines to ancestors, feathers, skins, skulls, skeletons, powder, carved figures or branches, spears, cutlasses or animal horns.

19% reported having participated in traditional African ceremonies or perform special acts to honor or celebrate their ancestors.

24% of Ugandan Christians report having participated in traditional African puberty rituals or manhood/womanhood initiation rituals for friends, relatives or neighbors in your area, such as endurance or challenge tests, or initiation to a traditional dance.

23% of Ugandan Christians had used traditional religious healers.