Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed
analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.

Regional Profile - Sub-Saharan Africa

Reaching the Nations

Return to Table of Contents

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich


Area: 22,410,150 square km.  Consisting of the African continent with the exception of North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa also includes the island of Madagascar and several small island groups in the nearby Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Tropical equatorial climate occurs in Central Africa as rainforest occupies most of the terrain and is subject to hot, humid conditions.  Tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons occurs in coastal areas of West Africa and portions of southern Africa.  Climate gradually transitions from tropical to semi-arid and arid conditions in the Sahel, a belt of savannah between tropical areas of Central and West Africa and the Sahara Desert.  The Sahara Desert comprises significant portions of territory in West and Central Africa with little or no access to fresh water.  Temperate climate occurs in many areas of South Africa and highland areas in Angola, Ethiopia, and Cameroon.  Overall terrain in Africa is flat and featureless as vast plains are occupied by rainforest, forest, scrubland, savannah, rock, or sand.  Mountainous areas are primarily limited to interior Guinea, the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad, highland areas of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Lesotho, and southern interior South Africa.  Many countries have large plateaus in inland areas.  Major rivers include the Congo, Niger, Zambezi, Volta, Orange, Gambia, Senegal, Ubangi, Chari, Kasai, Benue, upper Nile tributaries, Rufiji, and Limpopo.  Hot Harmattan winds carrying dust and sand and limiting visibility,  fresh water scarcity, drought, flooding, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, and volcanoes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include desertification, pollution, soil degradation and erosion, biodiversity loss, overgrazing, poaching, and detrimental mining practices.

Population: 833,705,964 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.322% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 4.57 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 55.53 male, 58.5 female (2011)


African: 98%

non-African: 2%

African ethnic groups include Bantu in Central Africa, Semitic-Hamitic in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, Guinean in coastal West Africa, Hausa in nothern Nigeria and southern Niger, Western Bantoid in West Africa, Nilotic in East Africa, Central Bantoid in central interior West Africa, Mande in West Africa, and Central and Eastern Sudanese in north Central Africa.  Less common indigenous African ethnic groups include Eastern Bantoid, Malay-Polynesian, Kanuri, Songhai, and Khoisan.  Europeans and South Asians comprise the majority of non-Africans.  

Languages: African languages spoken by over one million speakers (49%), languages spoken by less than one million speakers or unknown (51%).  Bilingualism is widespread in most African nations as many are fluent in their tribal or village language and in a lingua franca.  Commonly spoken second languages for interethnic communication include French, English, Swahili, Amharic, Portuguese, and Arabic.  Languages with over one million speakers include Nigerian Pidgin English (30 million), Hausa (24.8 million), Malagasy (21.7 million), Yoruba (19.4 million), Igbo (18 million), Fulani (17.4 million), Amharic (17.1 million), Oromo (17.1 million), Somali (12.7 million), Shona (10.7 million), Kikongo (10 million), Zulu (10 million), Xhosa (7.8 million), Gikuyu (7.2 million), Chichewa (7 million), Lingala (7 million), Tsihiluba (6.3 million), Southern Sotho (6 million), Tigrigna (5.7 million), Sukuma (5.4 million), Kituba (5.36 million), Afrikaans (5.04 million), Moore (5 million), Tswana (4.48 million), Dholuo (4.27 million), Luganda (4.13 million), Northern Sotho (4.09 million), English (4.07 million), Ewe (4.03 million), Senoufo  (4 million), Umbundu (4 million), Arabic (3.97 million), Kamba (3.96 million), Wolof (3.96 million), Asante (3.5 million), Bemba (3.3 million), Kanuri (3.2 million), Mandinka (3.05 million), Kimbundu (3 million), Sidamo (2.9 million), Bambara (2.7 million), Fante (2.36 million), Zarma (2.35 million), Nyankore (2.33 million), Sebat Bet Gurage (2.32 million), Tiv (2.21 million), Ekegusii (2.12 million), Baoule (2.1 million), Soga (2.06 million), Swati (2.01 million), Beti (2 million), Tsonga (1.94 million), Maay (1.86 million), Kimiiru (1.75 million), Chiga (1.58 million), Teso (1.57 million), Ndebele (1.55 million), Luba-Katanga (1.51 million), Gbe (1.5 million), Mende (1.5 million), Portuguese (1.5 million), Lango (1.49 million), Gogo (1.44 million), Anaang (1.4 million), Indian Ocean French Creoles (1.4 million), Fon (1.4 million), Dinka (1.35 million), Haya (1.3 million), Gamo-Gafo-Dawro (1.24 million), Themne (1.23 million), Wolaytta (1.23 million), Acholi (1.17 million), Serer-Sine (1.13 million), Masaaba (1.12 million), Afar (1.1 million), Boron (1.1 million), Dagombe (1.02 million), Dangme (1.02 million), Ngbaka (1.01 million), Ebira (1 million), Edo (1 million), Fang (1 million), Ha (1 million), Izon (1 million), Jula (1 million), Makonde (1 million), Nyamwezi (1 million), Silt'e (1 million), Songe (1 million), Tonga (1 million), Tumbuka (1 million), and Yao (1 million).

Literacy: 62.7%


Sub-Saharan African peoples are believed to have populated most areas of Africa for millennia prior to recorded history.  One of the world's oldest civilizations, Ethiopia has been populated since antiquity.  Various Old Testament prophets alluded to Ethiopia and the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch by the Apostle Philip is recorded in the Book of Acts.  Ethiopia became the second nation after Armenia to adopt Christianity as a state religion in the fourth century AD.  Islam spread to coastal East Africa, Comoros, northern Madagascar, the Sahara, and the Sahel around or before the first millennia A.D.  Hausa kingdoms and the Bornu Empire flourished in northern Nigeria beginning in the eleventh century and were significant trading centers between North Africa and West and Central Africa.  Other major empires in West Africa prior to European colonization included the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai Empires.  In the fifteenth century, the Yoruba founded the kingdom of Oyo in southwestern Nigeria and the kingdom of Benin was founded in south central Nigeria.  A Tutsi monarchy rose to power in the fifteenth century in Rwanda and in the eighteenth century in Burundi.  Both monarchies maintained a close relationship with the Hutus under a system of rule and society similar to serfdom.  The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore coastal areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and established trade routes with Southeast Asia.  The Dutch founded Cape Town in 1652 as a stopping point for travel between Europe and Asia and was the first permanent European settlement in South Africa.  Zimbabwe was the site of several ancient kingdoms between the birth of Christ and the arrival of Europeans in the late nineteenth century.  The Mossi Kingdom ruled present-day Burkina Faso prior to its overthrow by the British and the French in the nineteenth century.  Ethiopia and Liberia are the only two Sub-Saharan African nations which were never formally colonized by Europeans with the exception of the brief Italian occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941.  Founded in 1820 by freed American slaves, Liberia means "the land of the free" and became Africa's first independent nation in 1847 aside from Ethiopia.  In the mid-1880s, major European powers convened in the Berlin Conference to determine territorial claims for Africa in what was latter dubbed the Scramble for Africa.  The British and French obtained the largest landholdings during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Christian missionaries began greater proselytism efforts in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in most colonies resulting in Christians accounting for over half of the regional population today.  Cape Town fell to British rule in the early nineteenth century and conflict continued between Dutch settlers, known as the Boers, many of whom fled north to escape British rule.  The Boer Wars were fought from 1880-1881 and 1899-1902.  Germany established colonies in Togoland [Togo], Kamerun [Cameroon] , German South West Africa [Namibia], Tanganyika [Tanzania], and Ruanda-Urundi [Rwanda and Burundi] between the 1880s and 1919 until they were stripped from Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles and handed over to the United Kingdom (Cameroons, Namibia, and Tanzania), France (French Cameroun and Togo), and Belgium (Burundi and Rwanda).  By the 1920s, the British dominated East and Southern Africa, France dominated West and Central Africa, Portugal operated five colonies scattered throughout Africa, Belgium administered three colonies in Central Africa, and Spain administered Spanish Guinea (Equatorial Guinea). 

During the twentieth century, 17 nations gained independence from the United Kingdom including South Africa (1910), Ghana (1957), Somalia (1960), Nigeria (1960), Sierra Leone (1961), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), Tanzania (1964), Malawi (1964), Zambia (1964), the Gambia (1965), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968), Seychelles (1976), and Zimbabwe (1980).  17 nations achieved independence from France between 1958 and 1977, including Guinea (1958), Cameroon (1960), Senegal (1960), Togo (1960), Madagascar (1960), Benin (1960), Niger (1960), Burkina Faso (1960), Cote d'Ivoire (1960), Chad (1960), the Central African Republic (1960), the Republic of the Congo (1960), Gabon (1960), Mali (1960), Comoros (1975), and Djibouti (1977).  In the early 1960s, three nations were granted independence from Belgium including Belgium Zaire [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (1960), Burundi (1962), and Rwanda (1962).  In the 1970s, five nations obtained independence from Portugal including Guinea Bissau (1974), Mozambique (1975), Cape Verde (1975), Sao Tome and Principe (1975), and Angola (1975).  Additional countries in the region which obtained independence from other European colonizing powers or from an African nation include Equatorial Guinea from Spain in 1968, Namibia from South Africa in 1990, Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, and South Sudan from Sudan in 2011.

Nearly all Sub-Saharan African nations experienced significant political instability and conflict following independence until the late 1980s and early 1990s.  In South Africa, the National Party came into power in 1948 and segregated whites and blacks under a policy called apartheid which lasted until 1994 when multi-racial elections were held.  Predominantly Christian areas of the southern third of British Cameroon voted to join the Republic of Cameroon in 1961 after Muslim areas in the remainder of British Cameroon voted to join Nigeria.  Instability persisted in Nigeria as the predominantly Christian southeast attempted to succeed as the Republic of Biafra, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970.  Due to foreign investment and political stability, significant economic growth occurred during the 1960s and 1970s in Cote d'Ivoire.  Civil war enveloped Angola between 1975 to 2002.  In the mid-1980s, a severe drought and famine occurred in Ethiopia due to low rainfall, political instability, and poor government management.  

Several nations have experienced major conflicts since in 1990.  In 1990, exiled Tutsis launched an invasion of Rwanda from Uganda under the name of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).  War persisted until a cease fire was reached in 1992.  Between April 6th and the beginning of July 1994, approximately 800,000 were killed in a massive genocide targeting Tutsis and moderate Hutus meanwhile the RFT waged a civil war against the Rwandan military until overrunning the country by the summer.  As a result of the Rwandan Genocide and concurrent civil war, one million were killed, one million were displaced within Rwanda, and two million fled to other countries.  The genocide ignited a civil war in neighboring Burundi from the mid-1990s until 2006.  Two civil wars occurred in Liberia between 1989-1996 and in 2003.  The United Nations conducted a humanitarian mission from 1993 to 1995 in Somalia to relieve suffering from famine and the lawlessness that overtook the country following the collapse of the central government.  Increasing anarchy has occurred over the past two decades as Somalia has divided into several smaller autonomous and semi-autonomous states which remain unrecognized by the international community.  Pirate attacks on cargo ships, oil tankers, and passenger vessels off the Somali coast occur frequently and are a subject of increasing international concern.  Two wars gripped the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s and early 2000s resulting in the deaths of millions and spread conflict and instability to surrounding nations in Central Africa.  Areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain under control of rebel groups today.  A border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea occurred between 1998 and 2000 and tensions are ongoing.  Political instability culminated in the outbreak of the Ivorian Civil War in 2002 and Cote d'Ivoire experienced marked instability throughout the remainder of the 2000s and in the early 2010s.  Civil war plagued Sudan for decades culminating in a cease-fire in the mid-2000s and the independence of South Sudan in mid-2011.  In Chad, conflict between the government and rebel groups occurs frequently.  In the mid-2000s, rebel groups in Sudan began attacks on Chad's eastern border and civil conflict escalated.  In recent years, the capital N'djamena has come under threat from rebel forces.  In Nigeria, instability continues in the oil rich Niger River Delta between ethnic groups.  Violence has periodically targeted non-Nigerians in the area.  Christian and Muslim tensions are among the most severe in the world.  Hyperinflation occurred in Zimbabwe in the late 2000s, resulting in severe damage to the economy.  In the late 2000s, political conditions were destabilized in Guinea resulting in the formation of a transitional government in 2010.  


Tribalism, European cultures, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religious beliefs are the primary influences on local culture in most Sub-Saharan African nations.  Many nations have hundreds of ethnic groups each speaking their own respective languages and holding their own tribal customs and practices.  Commonly eaten foods in include yams, potatoes, vegetables, fish, fruit, rice, and meat.  Nigerians have numbered among the most influential African peoples and have significantly contributed to international literature and African music and art.  Several prominent West African ethnic groups have large populations in Nigeria or are indigenous to Nigeria, including the Hausa, Fulani, and Yoruba.  Shari'a courts dictate legal matters for Muslims in twelve northern Nigerian states where polygamy is permitted.  In South Africa, apartheid prevented interaction between ethnic groups, resulting in greater disharmony.  Since the end of apartheid, greater integration has occurred between ethnic groups although neighborhoods are still segregated due to differences in socio-economic class, language, religion, and culture.  Many elements of Portuguese culture are visible in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde due to past colonial rule.  Islam strongly influences society in Somalia, Chad, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, and northern areas of coastal West African nations.  Somali music possesses many unique characteristics, such as being based on a five-pitch music system instead of the common seven-pitch system.  Dowries are commonly required for marriage in the region and exact significant sums of money often unattainable.  Polygamy is widely practiced.  Female genital mutilation is a serious problem in Central Africa and interior West Africa with as many as 50% of women in some of these nations having been victims of the practice.  The treatment of women varies significantly from ethnic group to ethnic group.  Soccer is the most popular sport.  Many East Africans are world renowned runners and athletes.  Overall alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are lower than world averages.  Qat, an evergreen shrub grown in some areas of East Africa and the Middle East which has mild narcotic properties, is legal and commonly consumed in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. 


GDP per capita: $1,600 national median (2010) [3.38% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.430

Corruption Index: 3.0

Nearly all nations in Sub-Saharan Africa have agriculturally-driven economies which are underdeveloped, fragile, and receive little foreign investment.  Many governments have adopted inconsistent or poor economic policies which have stunted and delayed growth.  Political instability, civil wars, ethnic violence, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, corruption, low literacy rates, low living standards, and small skilled labor forces have contributed to slow rates of economic growth over the past half century.  Major economic powers in the region include South Africa and Nigeria and the largest stock exchange in Africa is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Cocoa, peanuts, rice, tapioca, yams, palm oil, cattle, sheep, rubber, cotton, fish, fruit, sugar, coffee, sorghum, rice, and tea are common agricultural products.  Major industries include petroleum, coal, tin, rubber, wood products, hides and skins, textiles, construction, food processing, printing, steel, food production, cement,  mining, fertilizer,  bus and truck assembly, and shipbuilding.  Most trade partners with Sub-Saharan Africa are concentrated in Western Europe; additional prominent trade partners include China, the United States, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Corruption is perceived as pervasive and widespread in nearly all nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Transparency International rates all nations in the region as less than 4.0 on the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 with the exception of Botswana, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Namibia, Cape Verde, Ghana, and Rwanda and many of these perceived less-corrupt countries face ongoing challenges fighting corruption.  Some countries have experienced improvement in reducing corruption in recent years.  A lack of government transparency, unaccounted public monies "lost" at the hands of government officials, human trafficking for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, illicit drug transshipment, and money laundering are common challenges.  In Chad, recent oil exploration and extraction has exacerbated corruption and inequality in wealth.  In Ethiopia, corrupt practices resulting from the privatization process have occurred, such as preferential treatment of state-own businesses to credit and land leases.  Poor law enforcement in many regions has led to human rights violations.  Ethiopia is a major transshipment point for illicit drugs.  In South Africa, money laundering and illicit drug production, cultivation, and trafficking are major issues.  Nigeria is a haven for drug traffickers and a significant transshipment point for heroin and cocaine between Europe, East Asia, and North America.  Criminal activity is a serious problem and organized crime have exacerbated corruption nationwide.  Money laundering has been an ongoing issue but has been receiving increasing awareness and action from the government. 


Christian: 53.2%

Muslim: 30.7%

indigenous beliefs: 11.7%

other/none/unknown: 4.4%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  169,851,706

Seventh Day Adventists  6,076,263  22,784

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,305,278  24,819

Latter-day Saints  332,900  1,016


Christianity, Islam, and indigenous beliefs are the primary religions of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Christians account for roughly half of the regional population and constitute 75% of more of the population in Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Rwanda, Seychelles, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Namibia, Reunion, Uganda, Swaziland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.  Christians comprise between 50% and 74% of the population in Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Burundi, Gabon, Zambia, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.  Syncretism between Christianity and indigenous beliefs is common throughout the region and especially prevalent in Central and Southern Africa.  Protestant denominations account for half of the Christian population in the region and are rapidly growing, especially Pentecostal, evangelicals, traditionally African denominations, and other missionary-minded groups.  Catholics account for approximately 40% of Christians in the region and account for over 50% of the population in Equatorial Guinea (90%), Sao Tome and Principe (83%), Seychelles (82%), Reunion (80%), Cape Verde (71%), Lesotho (70%), Cameroon (69%), Burundi (60%), and Rwanda (52%).  Orthodox Christians account for approximately 10% of Christians in the region and are primarily Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox.  Muslims account for 75% of more of the population in Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Mayotte, Niger, Senegal, the Gambia, Mali, and Guinea and between 50% and 74% in Sierra Leone, Chad, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria.  Indigenous beliefs are followed by 50% or more of the population in Madagascar and South Sudan and between 30% and 49% of the population in the Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Zambia, the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Gabon, Togo, Benin, and Sierra Leone.  Some ethnic groups exhibit strong ethno-religious ties to Islam like the Fulani, Hausa, and Somalis and many of these groups reside in the Sahara, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel.  There are small numbers of Hindus concentrated in Mauritius, Reunion, and South Africa among Indian and colored immigrants. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution in nearly all nations in the region protects religious freedom which is upheld by most governments.  Many countries require non-indigenous religious groups to register with the government primarily to receive tax-exempt status and for foreign religious workers to receive visas.  Government registration can be lengthy but few governments deny registration.  Legislation in many nations prohibits the practice of witchcraft.  Most nations report no major incidents of societal abuse of religious freedom.

Muslims in some Christian-majority nations like Liberia and Mozambique have complained of little representation in government and discrimination.  In Zimbabwe, religious leaders critical of government officials have suffered harassment.[1]  Similar reports have occurred in Madagascar among certain religious groups.[2]  Among countries with moderate to high levels of religious freedom, reports of religious violence between Christians and Muslims are most prevalent in Ethiopia and Liberia.  In Mauritius, there are tensions exist between Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.  Each group is allowed to worship freely in Mauritius however.[3]

Religious freedom is generally the weakest in homogenous Muslim nations with cultural and traditional ties to Islam.  Nations which experience the lowest levels of religious freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa include Eritrea, Comoros, Somalia, Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, and Tanzania.  In Eritrea, human rights and religious freedom conditions remain poor due to government refusal to recognize additional religious groups, harassment of practitioners of unregistered faiths, and the incarceration of many religious prisoners under harsh and inhumane conditions.  As many as 3,000 Christians from unregistered groups are held as religious prisoners.  Religious groups must register with the government, but no additional religious groups have been recognized since 2002.  Only the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (Lutheran), the Roman Catholic Church, and Islam are registered.  Several other religious groups, such as Presbyterians, Seventh Day Adventists, and Baha'is, have met all the qualifications for registration but the government refuses official recognition as their applications require the president's signature.  The government must approve the distribution or printing of religious literature or documents, the assembly of religious groups, and the construction of religious buildings.  Most the population exhibits religious tolerance, with the exception of widespread persecution of Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses.[4]  In Comoros, Islam is the state religion and Islamic holidays are nationally recognized.  Christians are prohibited from proselytizing and foreigners found engaging in missionary activity are deported.  Conversion from Islam to another religion can be legally prosecuted, although there are very few instances of this occurring.  Non-Muslims may peacefully assemble, build meetinghouses, and train clergy but most worship in private for fear of persecution.  Non-Muslim foreigners tend to experience little social opposition in practicing their faith whereas non-Muslim Comorian citizens are subject to ridicule and social pressure, leading most to worship in private.[5]  In Somalia, lawlessness and the de facto rule of Islamist governments who actively persecute Christians and forbid the spread of any form of Christianity severely restrict religious freedom for non-Muslims.  In Nigeria, the national government has facilitated religious tolerance between Christians and Muslims but local leaders have at times insinuated religious violence or have left religious hate crimes go unpunished.  Significant conflict between Muslims and Christians has at times resulted in mass killings in central areas of Nigeria.  In Chad, the government favors Islam.  There are connections between local religious leaders and the oil industry and oil revenues.  Foreign missionaries may serve in Chad but since July 2007 have been banned from open proselytism.[6]  In Guinea, there are some instances of societal persecution of individuals who convert from Islam to Christianity.[7]  In Tanzania, some limitations on worship and Christian activities exist in predominantly Muslim Zanzibar.  Tensions exist between Christians and Muslims in areas where Muslims desire to incorporate Islamic law into life and government.  Religious tensions have also occurred in Kenya.

Largest Cities

Urban: low (11% - Burundi); high (95% - Reunion)

Lagos, Kinshasa, Johannesburg, Abidjan, Cape Town, Durban, Accra, Nairobi, Kano, Ibadan, Dar es Salaam, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Harare, Dakar, Pretoria, Douala, Yaoundé, Kampala, Lusaka, Bamako, Maputo, Antananarivo, Ouagadougou, Conakry, Kaduna, Kumasi, Lubumbashi, Brazzaville, Mbuji-Mayi, Lomé, Mogadishu, Niamey, Benin City, Port Harcourt, Freetown, Cotonou, Monrovia, Maiduguri, Ndjamena, Port Elizabeth, Bulawayo, Zaria.

33 of the 43 cities with over one million inhabitants have an LDS congregation.  14% of the regional population resides in the 43 most populous cities.

LDS History

The first LDS missionaries arrived in April 1853 in Cape Town and South Africa was dedicated for missionary work the following month.  The first congregation was organized in August 1853.  Between 1865 and 1903 missionaries did not serve in South Africa due to government restrictions and missionaries unable to learn to speak Afrikaans.[8]  Missionaries were prohibited from entering the country between 1919 and 1921.  LDS missionary work began in Zimbabwe as early as 1930 and was followed by sporadic visits until 1950 when eight missionaries were assigned to work in Salisbury [Harare] and Bulawayo.  The first member joined the Church in Zimbabwe in 1951,[9] and the first African member joined in 1965.  President David O. McKay visited South Africa in 1954 and directed the mission president to bestow the priesthood upon members at his discretion. [10]  Foreign missionaries were not allowed to enter in 1955 due to civil unrest, but the Church was able to send missionaries from Canada and other British Commonwealth nations.[11]  This restriction was lifted shortly thereafter.  The first South African missionaries began serving outside their homeland in 1966.  The Church had a missionary presence in the Copperbelt Province of northern Zambia in the 1960s, but this presence was discontinued later in the decade.[12] 

Nigerians and Ghanaians began requesting LDS literature in the 1940s and 1950s by letter to Church Headquarters.  Nigerians acquired church literature, began holding meetings in the LDS Church's name, and registered with the government although the Church was not officially present in Nigeria.  In the early 1960s, the Church conducted at least two fact finding missions about the Church in Nigeria and West Africa.  In the 1960s, there were approximately 16,000 self-identified Nigerian Latter-day Saints meeting in over 60 congregations whereas in Ghana several unofficial congregations of prospective Latter-day Saints were established.  Progress with missionary work in both nations was delayed due to visa problems.[13]  The first official LDS congregation in West Africa was organized in Nigeria in 1978.  Just one year after the first branch was organized there were 1,700 converts baptized in Ghana and Nigeria and 35 branches operated in West Africa.[14]  In 1978, the first missionaries were assigned to Namibia.[15]  President Kimball rededicated South Africa for missionary work in 1979.  That same year the first locals joined the LDS Church in Kenya after several years of an LDS presence limited to nonnative members.  The LDS Church established a presence in Mauritius and Reunion in the late 1970s and early 1980s.    

The Church established a branch in Somalia in the early 1980s for foreign members but the branch was discontinued after members returned to their home countries.  The first LDS branch was organized in Swaziland in 1986 and government recognition and the first convert baptisms occurred in 1987.  The Church received government recognition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1986 and dedicated the country for missionary work in 1987.  In Liberia, missionary activity began and the country was dedicated for missionary work in 1987.  The LDS Church was first established in Sierra Leone in 1988.  The first LDS group was organized in Lesotho in 1988 and legal recognition was obtained and the first missionaries were assigned in 1989.  An LDS presence was established and the first convert baptisms in Cote d'Ivoire occurred in the late 1980s but official recognition was not obtained until 1991.

In 1990 the Africa Area was organized with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Lesotho and Swaziland were dedicated for missionary work in February 1990.[16]  The Church was established in Uganda in 1990 and the first missionaries were assigned.  That same year, the first LDS congregation was organized in Madagascar and the first LDS missionaries were assigned the following year.  Zimbabwe was dedicated for missionary work in October 1991.[17]  The Church received government in the Republic of the Congo in December of 1991 and dedicated the country for missionary work the following year.  In 1991, official government recognition for the LDS Church was obtained in Botswana.  Government recognition was obtained for the Church in the Republic of the Congo in 1991 and the following year the country was dedicated for missionary work.  Missionary activity restarted in Zambia in 1992 in Lusaka.  Botswana and Namibia were dedicated for missionary work in 1992.  Missionaries were first assigned, the first congregation was organized, and the Church obtained legal recognition in Tanzania in 1992.  The first official LDS meeting in Ethiopia occurred in 1992 and missionaries were first assigned and government registration occurred in 1993.  The LDS Church was first established in the Central African Republic in 1992.  LDS Church services were first held in Cameroon in the 1980s but legal status from the government was not obtained until 1993.[18]  The LDS Church received official recognition in Angola in 1993.[19]  The first LDS branch was organized and the first LDS missionaries were assigned to Burundi in 1993 but missionaries were withdrawn shortly thereafter and the branch was discontinued several years later.  The Church was officially registered with the Malawian government in 1995.  The first branches in Mozambique and Angola were organized in 1996 and the Church obtained legal recognition in Mozambique the same year.  In 1998, most countries in West and Central Africa were reassigned to the newly organized Africa West Area whereas most of the remaining countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were retained in renamed Africa Southeast Area.  The first full-time missionaries were assigned to Malawi and Mozambique in 1999.  That same year the first senior missionary couple was assigned and the first branch was organized in Togo.  Most countries in Central Africa were reassigned to the Africa Southeast Area in 2003.  The first LDS missionaries were assigned to Benin in 1998 and legal status was obtained in 2003.  

Foreign missionaries were withdrawn from Madagascar between 2002 and 2003 due to political instability.  An LDS branch operated in Mayotte between 2005 and 2009.  Benin and Togo were dedicated for missionary work in 2007.  The first full-time missionaries were assigned to Angola in 2008.  In 2008, thousands of self-affiliated Latter-day Saints met in unofficial congregations awaiting for an LDS Church establishment in South Sudan.  In 2008, the first LDS branch in Rwanda was organized and the following year the country was dedicated for missionary work.  Political instability nearly prompted mission leadership to evacuate nonnative missionaries from Madagascar in 2009.  That same year the first LDS branch was organized in South Sudan in Juba.  In 2010, the first LDS branch was organized in Djibouti to primarily service foreign military personnel.  In 2010, hundreds of self-affiliated Latter-day Saints in Burundi were awaiting a church establishment.  That same year, the first LDS missionaries were reassigned to Burundi and a branch was reorganized in Bujumbura.  In 2011, an administrative area branch was organized in Gabon.  In mid-2011, there was no official LDS presence and no known independent LDS branches in Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mayotte, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, the Seychelles, and Somalia.


The South African Mission was among the first 20 missions organized by the LDS Church and was formed in 1853 but closed in 1865.  The mission reopened in 1903 and was later renamed the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.  In 1972, most African nations came under the jurisdiction of the International Mission which was organized to administer nations which did not pertain to an ordinary mission.  In 1980, the Africa West Mission [later renamed Nigeria Lagos] began administering West Africa, namely Nigeria and Ghana.  Additional missions organized included the South Africa Cape Town (1984), Ghana Accra (1985), Zaire Kinshasa [later renamed Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa] (1987), Zimbabwe Harare (1987), Liberia Monrovia [discontinued in 1991] (1988), the Mascarene Islands [relocated to South Africa Durban in 1991] (1988), Nigeria Aba [relocated to Port Harcourt in 1995] (1988), Kenya Nairobi (1991), Cameroon Yaounde [relocated to Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan in 1993] (1992), Nigeria Ilorin [relocated to Ibadan in 1993 and discontinued in 1995] (1992), Nigeria Jos [relocated to Enugu in 1993] (1992), Madagascar Antananarivo (1998), Cape Verde Praia (2002), Nigeria Ibadan [renamed Lagos Nigeria East in 2007 and discontinued in 2009] (2002), Nigeria Uyo [relocated to Calabar in 2008] (2002), Mozambique Maputo (2005), Uganda Kampala (2005), Ghana Cape Coast (2007), Sierra Leone Freetown (2007), Democratic Republic of Congo Lubumbashi (2010), Benin Conotou (2011), Zambia Lusaka (2011), and Ghana Kumasi (2012) Missions.  The number of LDS missions in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from one in 1970 to two in 1980, nine in 1990, 12 in 2000, and 22 in 2012.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 332,900 (2010)

There were 6,142 Latter-day Saints in Africa in 1973,[20] 95% of which resided in South Africa.  Regional church membership increased to 12,810 in 1983, 29,375 in 1987, 79,350 in 1993, 112,100 in 1997, 153,451 in 2000, 237,124 in 2005, and 332,914 in 2010.  Among countries with at least 100 Latter-day Saints in 2000, membership grew most rapidly in Togo (965%), Mozambique (921%), and Cameroon (547%) and grew most slowly in Reunion (17%), Mauritius (38%), and Swaziland (58%).  LDS membership increased by 117% as a region between 2000 and 2010.  The percentage of Latter-day Saint in the general population varies widely by country as Cape Verde (one Latter-day Saint per 69 inhabitants), Ghana (one in 550), and Sierra Leone (one in 602) have the highest percentages of Latter-day Saints whereas Burundi (one in 200,000), Ethiopia (one in 80,800), and South Sudan (one in 80,000) have the smallest percentages of Latter-day Saints among countries with an independent LDS congregation operating in mid-2011.  LDS membership was greater than 50,000 in only two nation in 2010: Nigeria (98,359) and South Africa (54,996).  In 2010, one in 2,500 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 439 Branches: 577 Groups: 100+

There were 175 LDS congregations in 1987.  The number of congregations increased to 408 in 1993, 456 in 1997, 564 in 2000, 747 in 2005, and 1,016 in mid-2011.  Accelerated congregational growth occurred in the 2000s.  The increase in the number of congregations between 2000 and mid-2011 was greatest in Nigeria (116), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (66), Ghana (61), and South Africa (49). 

The first stake organized in Sub-Saharan Africa was the Transvaal Stake [later renamed the Johannesburg South Africa Stake] in 1970.  Other countries which have stakes at present provided with the year the first stake was organized include Nigeria (1988), Ghana (1991), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1996), Cote d'Ivoire (1997), Zimbabwe (1999), Madagascar (2000), Kenya (2001), the Republic of the Congo (2003), Uganda (2010), and Cape Verde (2012).  The number of stakes in Sub-Saharan Africa increased from one in 1970 to two in 1980, five in 1987, ten in 1993, 21 in 1997, 33 in 2000, 42 in 2005, and 58 in mid-2011.  Between 2000 and mid-2011, new stakes were organized in Nigeria (6), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (5), Ghana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (3), Cote d'Ivoire and Madagascar (2), and Kenya, the Republic of the Congo, and Uganda (1).  As of mid-2011, two stakes had been discontinued in Nigeria (the Umuahia Nigeria Stake in 2005) and Liberia (the Monrovia Liberia Stake in 2007).  The number of districts in Sub-Saharan Africa numbered 21 in 1987, 54 in 1993, 38 in 1997, 33 in 2000, 36 in 2005, and 59 in mid-2011. 

Activity and Retention

The number of active members in most Sub-Saharan African congregations generally varies from 50 to 200.  In 2010, the average LDS congregation had 328 members.  Member activity and convert retention rates vary widely by subregion as the LDS Church in Central African nations generally exhibits the highest member activity rates (50-85%) whereas small island nations in the Indian Ocean and Cape Verde appear to experience the lowest member activity rates (25-40%).  Member activity rates tend to be lower in southern Africa and in nations which have no active missionary program and a small church presence such as the Central African Republic.  Provided with the estimated member activity rate, countries in the region which appear to experience the highest member activity rates include Burundi (85%), Rwanda (80%), Djibouti (75%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan (67%), and Madagascar (62%) whereas Uganda (23%), Reunion (25%), and Liberia, the Central African Republic, and Cape Verde (25%) appear to experience the lowest member activity rates.  Active LDS membership in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 145,000 or 43% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, English, Swahili, Amharic, Portuguese, Arabic, Malagasy, Yoruba, Igbo, Shona, Zulu, Xhosa, Lingala, Afrikaans, Tswana,

Arabic, Twi, Fante, Efik, Spanish.

All LDS scriptures are available in French, Swahili, Portuguese, Arabic, Malagasy, Igbo, Shona, Arabic, Twi, and Fante.  Most church materials are translated into French, Portuguese, Arabic, Malagasy, Shona, and Arabic whereas few church materials are translated into Swahili, Igbo, Twi, and Fante.  Only the Book of Mormon is available in Amharic, Yoruba, Zulu, Xhosa, Lingala, Afrikaans, Tswana, and Efik and most of these languages have few translations of LDS materials.  A handful of LDS materials often limited to the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Articles of Faith, and Gospel Principles are available in Hausa, Fulani, Somali, Kikongo, Chichewa, Tsihiluba, Sotho, Moore, Sepedi [Northern Sotho], Ewe, Wolof, Bemba, Mandinka, Bambara, Baoule, Ndebele, Mende, Mauritian Creole, Fon, Afar, and Fang.


In mid-2011, there were approximately 575 LDS meetinghouses in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Most LDS congregations meet in remodeled buildings or rented spaces.  LDS meetinghouses have been constructed in most nations with an official LDS presence and are most prevalent in nations with a more established LDS communities such as in South Africa.  Some newly organized or small branches and groups meet in members homes or outdoors.

Health and Safety

Endemic tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS, low living standards, and poor access to clean water are serious health challenges in most nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.  HIV/AIDS infects 10% of the adult population or more in Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, and Malawi.  Many Africans live below the poverty line.  There have been several safety concerns for members and missionaries presented from lawlessness, wars, insurgencies, dangerous driving conditions, and ethnic violence.  President George T. Brooks of the Zimbabwe Harare Mission was killed in a car accident and his wife was critically injured in 1990.[21]  President Ralph L. Duke of the Uganda Kampala Mission was killed in a car accident in Uganda in 2007.[22]  Violent crime poses major obstacles for church growth in South Africa which suffers from the one of the world's highest rates of violent crime and rape.  The sexual assault and robbery of a pair of sister missionaries serving in the South Africa Durban Mission in 2006 resulted in the withdrawal of all sister missionaries from South Africa that year.[23]  Full-time missionaries limit proselytism on the basis of areas and time of day for safety reasons.  Driving also poses safety hazards, evidence by the death of a missionary in the Johannesburg mission in 2008.[24]  Two missionaries have been murdered while serving in Africa in the past 10 years, both in Cote d'Ivoire.  In 1999, a full-time North American missionary died from being stabbed in the chest in a random attack.[25]  In 2002, a senior missionary sister serving with her husband in Yamoussoukro was murdered in her apartment in a robbery attempt.[26]  Safety is a major concern which has led the Church to move very cautiously into South Sudan.  One of the members in the Akobo Group was killed in a nighttime attack in late 2009 but did not appear to be targeted because of their religion.  Those meeting in the Church's name in the Nyamlel area take care of hundreds of freed child slaves from the Darfur region.  Religiously-motivated hate crimes and acts of violence in central and northern Nigeria targeting Christians pose major safety concerns for members and missionaries. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The LDS Church has conducted extensive humanitarian and development assistance in many Sub-Saharan Africa nations such as Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.  Activities have primarily consisted of donations of food, emergency relief, wheelchairs, clothing, and medical equipment, neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, measles vaccinations, the construction of pit latrines, remodeling and outfitting hospital and nonprofit facilities, and vision care.  In recent years, the Perpetual Education Fund has been introduced among returned LDS missionaries to provide low-interest loans for obtaining higher education.  There has been no significant development work meeting educational needs with the exception of literacy classes which are headed by local members and leaders in some nations like Nigeria.


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church benefits from most nations in the region experiencing high levels of religious freedom as few societal abuses of religious freedom are reported and local and national governments protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religious beliefs.  Nearly all countries with an official LDS presence experience widespread religious freedom yet LDS outreach is often limited to a handful of the largest cities or only a couple administrative divisions.

Sub-Saharan Africa boasts the most nations of any world region without an LDS presence that experience widespread religious freedom.  There are no legal restrictions preventing an official LDS Church establishment and the assignment of full-time missionaries in Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mayotte, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, the Seychelles, and South Sudan.  Few individuals from these nations joining the LDS Church abroad and returning to their homelands, a lack of vision expanding outreach into additional nations, low living standards, no nearby LDS mission outreach centers, limited missionary resources dedicated to Sub-Saharan Africa, and perceived low receptivity due to many of these nations boasting comparatively small populations or predominantly Muslim populations appear significant contributors for the lack of an LDS presence in these nations today.  Violence, civil wars, and political instability have also delayed the establishment or maintenance of an LDS presence in several Sub-Saharan African nations, including Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, and Somalia.  With the plateauing of the worldwide LDS missionary force in the 2000s and greater concentration opening unreached areas of countries with an LDS presence, prospects for a future LDS Church establishment in these nations appears mediocre to poor in the coming years.

Countries which experience low levels of religious freedom nationwide or have areas or regions where infringements on religious freedom occur offer no realistic opportunities for the LDS Church to establish or expand an official church presence.  Most of these nations are homogenously Muslim with ethnic groups that exhibit cultural and traditional ties to Islam.  Nations which experience the lowest levels of religious freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa include Eritrea, Comoros, Somalia, northern Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, and Zanzibar, Tanzania.  The refusal of the government to recognize additional religious groups, the imprisonment of Christians from nonregistered religious groups, and strict legislation mandating government approval for disseminating literature, constructing meetinghouses, and assembly for religious groups are major barriers for the establishment of any LDS presence in Eritrea.  Some societal persecution targets Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses which may indicate potential discrimination and prosecution directed toward Latter-day Saints in Eritrea if an official church presence were established.  In Comoros, laws prohibiting Christian proselytism, the designation of Islam as the state religion, and the societal ostracism and discrimination of non-Muslim Comorians pose significant challenges for establishing a church presence among the native population.  Lawlessness, persecution of non-Muslims by society and de facto governments, and ongoing violence will prevent an LDS Church establishment in Somalia until the country is stabilized, laws protecting religious freedom are established and observed, and society becomes more tolerant of non-Muslim religious groups.  Only a couple LDS congregations operate in the twelve northern Nigerian states under Shari'a law where non-Christians are permitted to worship and proselyte, but some local religious leaders have instigated religious violence between Muslims and Christians.  Political and societal instability have prevented a greater LDS establishment in these Nigerian states.  In Chad, religious groups may worship freely and foreign missionaries may serve but missionaries have been prohibited from proselytism since mid-2007, which would seriously impede the functioning of LDS missionaries in Chad if assigned.  Societal abuse of religious freedom discriminating and persecuting Muslim converts to Christianity has occurred in Guinea, which may reduce the receptivity of Guineans to the LDS Church.  Christians face some limitations on worship in Muslim Zanzibar in Tanzania, dissuading any prospective LDS outreach in Zanzibar and Pemba.

Cultural Issues

The LDS Church has experienced moderate to high rates of receptivity in nearly all nations an official LDS presence has been established in Sub-Saharan Africa as most ethnic groups have demonstrated consistent interest and curiosity about Christianity.  Many nations like Nigeria have a high percentage of church goers in the general population, favoring efforts by the LDS Church to instill patterns of regular church attendance in investigators and converts.  Enthusiasm for prayer and scripture reading is common but low literacy rates and poverty are challenges which limited local member self-sufficiency.  Low standards of living create difficulties for generating local leadership and economic self reliance but also provide opportunities for LDS humanitarian and development projects which can meet these needs in the general population and also raise public awareness of the Church, provide finding opportunities for full-time missionaries, and offer opportunities for local members to introduce friends and family in need to services provided by the Church.  Lower receptivity occurs among non-black African ethnic groups in South Africa and in Reunion and Mauritius.  Teaching approaches tailored toward those with a nonreligious background will be needed for achieving greater progress in these nations or among these populations.  Indigenous beliefs are widespread in some nations like South Sudan and Burkina Faso.  LDS teaching and proselytism approaches will need to adapt to the understanding and religious background of non-Christian animists and syncretic Christian-animists.  The integrating of some religious practices such as dancing and beating drums has posed minor challenges for LDS missionaries to address in some nations like Nigeria.  Homogenous Muslim populations in some nations like Somalia present a nearly insurmountable cultural barrier for the LDS Church as misunderstandings about Christianity and Christians are widespread and converts to Christianity are often shunned and ostracized from their families and communities.  The LDS Church lacks a presence in these nations, further challenging any prospective efforts to extend outreach as there is no support group of former Muslim Latter-day Saints who can fellowship and nurture new converts in these nations.  The prominence of the Catholic Church in some nations like Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principle pose potential barriers to outreach if an LDS presence is established one day.

The traditional custom of paying a dowry for a bride to get married is a burden on young adults and results in fewer members marrying in many nations.  Syncretism blending Christianity with indigenous beliefs and superstitution also presents challenges.  Casual sexual relations are common in some nations and present a cultural challenge for missionaries and local leaders to address.  The high percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS in many Southern African nations is a major concern which threatens to destabilize society and thwart the establishment of a long-term LDS presence with full-member families. 

Polygamy has presented challenges for LDS missionaries to address, particularly among those investigating the church participating in a polygamous marriage.  Few polygamists end their marriages in divorce to be baptized.  Those engaged in a polygamous relationship must end these relations in divorce prior and be interviewed by a member of the mission presidency in order to be considered for baptism in the LDS Church.  Those who have committed violent crimes and desire to be baptized in the LDS Church pose challenges.  Currently the Church cannot baptize those who have committed serious sins such as murder without an interview from the mission president, and in some cases baptism must be approved by the First Presidency.  Issues of war crimes and past violence have generated issues for other faiths.

National Outreach

Sub-Saharan African receives low levels of LDS mission outreach as approximately 15% of the regional population appears to reside in a city or location with an LDS congregation.  Provided with the percentage of the population inhabiting cities with LDS congregations, countries and territories which appear to receive the greatest national outreach include Cape Verde (76%), the Republic of the Congo (45%), South Africa (39%), and Reunion (36%) whereas countries with an official LDS presence and active missionary program which appear to receive the least national outreach include Ethiopia (4%), Burundi (6%), and Uganda (8%).  15 of the 49 countries in the region have no official LDS congregations and are completely unreached by Latter-day Saints including Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mayotte, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, the Seychelles, and Somalia.  The combined population of these 16 unreached nations is over 100 million and accounts for 12.5% of the regional population.  Over half of the population residing in unreached Sub-Saharan countries resides in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Senegal.  In 2011, the Africa West Area Branch was organized to administer small groups of members operating unofficially in Burkina Faso, Chad, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Senegal but no formal proselytism occurred in any of these nations.  Little progress occurred in opening additional Sub-Saharan African countries between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s as in 1994, the LDS Church was authorized to performing missionary work in 26 of the 44 countries in the Africa Area.[27]

The percentage of the population in Sub-Saharan African countries reached by LDS mission outreach varies principally by the percentage of the population residing in urban areas rather than by population size or duration of LDS mission outreach.  Nigeria is home to 19% of the regional population yet only approximately 23% of the national population resides in cities or locations which receive LDS outreach notwithstanding the LDS Church in Nigeria operating some of the longest, most consistent mission outreach in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.  The four countries with the highest percentage of the population residing in cities or locations with LDS congregations are among the top ten countries with the most urbanized populations.  Establishing congregations in rural areas has been a recurrent challenge for the LDS Church worldwide which will need to be mastered in order for greater progress to occur in expanding national outreach.  The LDS Church has only achieved notable progress in expanding national outreach into rural communities and small towns in southeastern Nigeria, southern Ghana, and in some areas of Kenya at present but oftentimes rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrate the highest receptivity and some of the greatest opportunities of growth.  Several factors have contributed to minimal rural outreach in the region including warfare and insurgencies, political instability, isolated location, transportation challenges, the lack of LDS materials in local languages, low standards of living, and the unfeasibility of assigning full-time missionaries to a single village due to limited LDS missionary manpower worldwide.  Local members have proven extremely resourceful in expanding outreach into rural communities and have been the primary driver behind the establishment of nearly all LDS congregations functioning in rural communities at present.  Smart utilization of local leadership and member-missionary resources with careful coordination from mission and area presidencies can ensure that effective outreach is extended with the fewest resources possible while simultaneously training and preparing new converts to fill local leadership and staff member-missionary roles.  Reliance on senior missionary couples to open additional cities to missionary work and lay the foundation of prospective congregations has limited the scope and vision of expanding outreach in many Sub-Saharan African nations due to the limited number of senior missionary couples but nonetheless provides valuable leadership training and experience to local members which has often facilitated long-term self-sustainability.

The greatest opportunity for expanding LDS outreach in Sub-Saharan Africa is in nations which already have an LDS presence notwithstanding significant unrealized opportunities for growth in currently unreached nations.  72% of the regional population resides in countries and territories which have an LDS presence but in cities and locations which receive no mission outreach and which have no LDS congregations.  Opportunities appear most favorable for expanding national outreach in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christian-majority areas of Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya as these nations have the largest populations and local populations exhibit high receptivity to the LDS Church.  Missionary forces in most of these nations are nearly self sufficient or are totally self sufficient, increasing the opportunities for national outreach expansion with minimal impact on worldwide LDS missionary resources.  Meaningful opportunities to capitalize on receptive populations to the LDS Church and generally widespread religious freedom are found in nearly all nations in the region at present. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The LDS Church in Sub-Saharan Africa overall experiences moderately high rates of member activity and convert retention.  Dependence on North American missionaries to staff local missionary forces is one of the greatest indicators of member activity and convert retention in Sub-Saharan Africa as nations which rely most heavily on non-African missionaries generally experience the lowest member activity and convert retention rates.  Non-African missionaries appear to comprise the largest percentages of local missionary forces in island nations and in southern and eastern Sub-Saharan Africa.  Consequently, many of these nations have member activity rates between 23-40%.  Nations which are the most self-sufficient in staffing their local missionary needs or are total self reliant in supplying missionaries generally exhibit member activity rates over 50%.  Reasons for the variation of member activity rates and prevalence of non-African missionaries include a lack of returned missionaries to supply local leadership manpower, non-African missionaries offering no long-term support to the region, and non-African missionaries often more susceptible to quick-baptize tactics that deemphasize the importance of developing habitual church attendance prior to baptism.  Additional factors have contributed to member activity challenges including distance to church meetinghouses, the extremely limited LDS presence in most nations resulting in members moving to cities with no established congregations, and counter-proselytism or competition from other missionary-focused Christian groups.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Most nations in Sub-Saharan Africa exhibit extreme ethnic diversity as tribalism is a major cultural force.  The lack of an ethnic majority in some nations fosters a cosmopolitan atmosphere tolerant of differing ethnic groups which generally live together harmoniously in society such as in Tanzania and Gabon.  Ethnically homogenous populations are found in a couple Sub-Saharan African nations including Lesotho (99.7% Sotho) and Comoros (99% Comorian) whereas a single ethnic group comprises a strong majority in a few nations such as Burundi (85% Hutu), Somalia (85% Somali), Rwanda (84% Hutu), Swaziland (84% Swazi), and Botswana (79% Tswana).  Ethnic violence has often been most extreme in nations which have an ethnic majority and a discriminated, ostracized sizeable ethnic minority.  Overall the LDS Church at present has encountered few ethnic integration issues in Sub-Saharan Africa due to few Latter-day Saints in the region, very low levels of national outreach in most nations, and a tiny or nonexistent LDS presence in nations or areas which have experienced considerable ethnic violence.   The LDS Church appears to have experienced the greatest ethnic integration challenges in South Africa and Kenya.  In South Africa, apartheid continues to divide the country as wealthier white South Africans generally live in secure compounds whereas blacks and coloreds reside in poor townships or in rural areas.  Geographical separation has reduced ethnic integration challenges, which have in the past been the greatest challenge for whites integrating into black congregations.  Ethnic integration challenges for the LDS Church in an area of Kenya in the late 2000s required the appointment of the husband of a senior missionary couple as the branch president as ethnic hostilities ignited among branch members.  LDS missionaries report that most ethnic integration issues for the Church in Sub-Saharan Africa are language-based rather than ethnically-based.

Language Issues

36 of the 92 languages with over one million native speakers have translations of LDS materials accounting for 61% of native speakers who speak a language with over one million speakers.  Second language speakers of these languages may increase the percentage of the population with access to LDS materials to as high as 85%.  All LDS scriptures are only available in 11 languages however and the Book of Mormon is translated in only 20 languages.  There is a pressing need for additional LDS materials and scriptures translated into the most commonly spoken language let alone a need for translations of lesser-spoken languages with sizeable numbers of LDS speakers such as in some areas of Nigeria.  Provided with where the language is predominantly spoken and the number of speakers, indigenous African languages with the most native speakers without translations of LDS materials or scripture include Oromo [Ethiopia] (17.1 million), Gikuyu [Kenya] (7.18 million), Tigrigna [Eritrea and Ethiopia] (5.72 million), Sukuma [Tanzania] (5.43 million), Kituba [Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo] (5.36 million), Dholuo [Kenya] (4.27 million), Luganda [Uganda] (4.13 million), Senoufo [Cote d'Ivoire and Mali] (4 million), Umbundu [Angola] (4 million), Kamba [Kenya] (3.96 million), Asante [Ghana] (3.5 million), Kanuri [Nigeria] (3.2 million), Kimbundu [Angola] (3 million), Sidamo [Ethiopia] (2.9 million), Zarma [Niger] (2.35 million), Nyankore [Uganda] (2.33 million), Sebat Bet Gurage [Ethiopia] (2.32 million), Tiv [Nigeria] (2.21 million), Ekegusii [Kenya] (2.12 million), Soga [Uganda] (2.06 million), Beti [Cameroon] (2 million), Tsonga [South Africa] (1.94 million), Maay [Somalia] (1.86 million), Kimiiru [Kenya] (1.75 million), Chiga [Uganda] (1.58 million), Teso [Uganda] (1.57 million), Luba-Katanga [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (1.51 million), Gbe [Benin and Togo] (1.5 million), Lango  [Uganda] (1.49 million), Gogo [Tanzania] (1.44 million), Anaang [Nigeria] (1.4 million), Dinka [South Sudan] (1.35 million), Haya [Tanzania] (1.3 million), Gamo-Gafo-Dawro [Ethiopia] (1.24 million), Themne [Sierra Leone] (1.23 million), Wolaytta [Ethiopia] (1.23 million), Acholi [1.17 million] (1.17 million), Serer-Sine [Senegal] (1.13 million), Masaaba [Uganda] (1.12 million), Boron [Ghana] (1.1 million), Dagombe [Ghana] (1.02 million), Dangme [Ghana] (1.02 million), Ngbaka [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (1.01 million), Ebira [Nigeria] (1 million), Edo [Nigeria] (1 million), Ha [Tanzania] (1 million), Izon [Nigeria] (1 million), Jula [Burkina Faso] (1 million), Makonde [Tanzania] (1 million), Nyamwezi [Tanzania] (1 million), Silt'e [Ethiopia] (1 million), Songe [Democratic Republic of the Congo] (1 million), Tonga [Zambia] (1 million), Tumbuka [Malawi] (1 million), and Yao [Malawi] (1 million).  Prospects for translating basic proselytism material may be forthcoming for languages spoken in areas of countries which receive LDS outreach, but significant delays translating and publishing materials and scriptures in additional languages has occurred due to the lengthy recommendation and review process.

Missionary Service

Sub-Saharan African Latter-day Saints have demonstrated moderate to high levels of full-time missionary service.  Two missionary training centers operate in Tema, Ghana and Johannesburg, South Africa; both of which were established in the early 2000s.  The LDS Church in Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe appears to be self sufficient or almost self sufficient in staffing their full-time missionary forces with local members whereas local members serving missions appear to comprise approximately half of the number of full-time missionaries assigned to Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.  Common obstacles which reduce rates of missionary service for members in the region include poverty, the reliance on all family members to provide economic sustenance for the family, age limitations on missionary service, saving money to pay dowries for marriage, and a lack of missionary preparation classes or programs in some areas.  Returned missionaries are resourceful and valuable in the encouragement and training of prospective full-time missionaries.  Greater coordination of mission and local leaders and Church Education System teachers and personnel may improve prospects for increasing the number of members serving missions. 


As a whole LDS leadership in Sub-Saharan Africa shows signs of a high degree of self-sustainability as evidenced by few missionaries holding leadership positions, commensurate congregational and membership growth rates, and the frequent organization of new stakes and districts.  Poverty, underemployment and unemployment, and low literacy skills appear major barriers toward increasing the number of qualified LDS leaders in the region.  Long distances from mission headquarters for many congregations has resulted in the irregular training and mentoring of local leaders by mission and area leadership.  However many local members who lead congregations make the most of their limited resources available and offer invaluable service and enthusiasm which has magnified mission outreach efforts and has expanded national outreach for decades.  Local leaders in many countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo have readily undertaken administrative responsibilities and have helped train additional leadership.  The often strong degree of self-sustainability of full-time missionary forces in the region have also contributed to the robust body of LDS leadership as many returned missionaries remain in their home countries and staff leadership positions.  The availability and size of active priesthood manpower in nations with 1,000 or fewer nominal members or in recently organized districts is often very limited and has delayed the organization of additional congregations.  The primary reason for why many districts in Sub-Saharan Africa have not become stakes yet is due to insufficient numbers of total members and a lack of trained priesthood leadership rather than a lack of total active priesthood holders.


The first LDS temple in Sub-Saharan Africa was completed by the Church in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1985.  Two additional temples have been constructed in Accra Ghana (2004) and Aba Nigeria (2005).  In 2011, the Church announced two new temples in Durban, South Africa and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo but as of April 2012 both temples were still in the planning stages.  The three temples in the region appear moderately utilized by local members.  In 2011, the Johannesburg South Africa Temple scheduled four endowment sessions Tuesdays through Thursdays and nine and 13 sessions on Fridays and Saturdays, respectively.  The Accra Ghana Temple scheduled six endowment sessions daily Tuesdays through Fridays and three sessions on Saturdays whereas endowment sessions were made by an appointment basis for the Aba Nigeria Temple.  Temple attendance in most of Sub-Saharan Africa is challenging as many Latter-day Saints are unable to attend the temple due to financial and travel constraints but many members live worthy of a temple recommend.  Low living standards, political instability, dependence on the international church for financing temples, and a lack of endowed members are major obstacles preventing the construction of additional temples.  Prospects appear favorable for the construction of additional temples within the next decade due to increasing active membership and the consistent organization of additional stakes.  Cities which may have LDS temples constructed one day include Harare, Zimbabwe; Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; Lubumbashi Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lagos, Nigeria; Benin City, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; and Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Comparative Growth

The size of LDS membership in Sub-Saharan Africa ranks average among world regions although the percentage of the regional population receiving LDS outreach is among the lowest in the world among regions in which the majority of countries and territories have an official LDS presence.  Sub-Saharan Africa experiences the one of the highest membership and congregational growth rates worldwide among world regions.  The sustainability of the local missionary force is among the highest worldwide.  Sub-Saharan Africa presents some of the most favorable church growth conditions for Latter-day Saints yet the amount of mission resources dedicated to the region is comparatively small resulting in the LDS Church growing at rates far below its potential.

Other outreach-oriented Christians have experienced some of the most impressive and sustained rapid membership and congregational growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.  37% of Seventh Day Adventists worldwide reside in Sub-Saharan Africa where Adventists number over six million and meet in approximately 22,800 congregations; only 5,000 fewer congregations than the LDS Church operates worldwide.  Jehovah's Witnesses maintain 24,800 congregations and report 1.4 million active members.  Both Adventists and Witnesses have a presence in all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with only a couple exceptions whereas the LDS Church does not have a presence in 16 nations in the region.  There are more active Seventh Day Adventists in all countries in the region than nominal Latter-day Saints with the exception of Cape Verde and the Republic of the Congo whereas there are more active Jehovah's Witnesses in all countries in the region than nominal Latter-day Saints with the exception of Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.  Since 2005, LDS annual membership growth rates have exceeded Seventh Day Adventists in Sub-Saharan Africa whereas congregational growth rates appear comparable for both religious groups.   

Future Prospects

The outlook for future LDS Church growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is very favorable due to widespread interest in religion, high receptivity, strong self-sufficiency in local leadership and administration, local member enthusiasm for missionary work, good member activity and convert retention rates, and accelerated expansion of mission outreach in many nations in recent years.  The organization of additional LDS missions is desperately needed in order to capitalize on current conditions as receptivity, religious freedom, and self-sufficiency in local leadership can be time sensitive.  Prospects appear poor for the opening of additional unreached nations to missionary work notwithstanding many of these countries enjoy widespread religious freedom, but the outlook for expanding national outreach in nations with an established LDS presence is excellent.  The scope and emphasis on humanitarian and development work will likely increased in the region for the LDS Church as greater resources are dedicated to Sub-Saharan Africa.  Additional missions will likely be organized on a regular basis in the coming years.  Potential future missions may be organized over the short and medium terms in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Botswana/Namibia; Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo; Bujumbura, Burundi; Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania; Lilongwe, Malawi, Luanda, Angola; Mbuji-Mayi, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Yaounde, Cameroon.  Additional temples may be constructed in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire; Benin City, Nigeria; Lagos, Nigeria; and Nairobi; Kenya over the short and medium terms.  Additional missionary training centers may be established in Aba, Nigeria and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[1]  "Zimbabwe," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[2]  "Madagascar," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[3]  "Mauritius," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[4]  "Eritrea," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[5]  "Comoros," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[6]  Chad," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[7]  "Guinea," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.

[8]  "South Africa," Country Profile, 2 April 2011.

[9]  "Zimbabwe," Country Profile, retrieved 11 May 2011.

[10]  Johnson, R. Val.  "South Africa: Land of Good Hope."  Ensign February 1993, 33.

[11]  Cummins, Lawrence.  "The Saints in South Africa," Ensign, March 1973.

[12]  "Branches organized in Zambia," LDS Church News, 4 January 2003.

[13]  "Work in Nigeria has deep roots, flowers quickly," LDS Church News, 19 December 1988.

[14]  "Work in Nigeria has deep roots, flowers quickly," LDS Church News, 19 December 1988.

[15]  "Namibia," Country Profile, retrieved 31 December 2010.

[16]  "Six lands are dedicated: 'New day dawning' in 2 small African mountain kingdoms," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.

[17]  "Three nations dedicated in Africa," LDS Church News, 23 November 1991.

[18]  "From the world," LDS Church News, 22 January 1994.

[19]  "Angola," Country Profile, 2 April 2011.

[20]  "Membership Distribution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973," Deseret News 1974 Church Almanac, p. 117

[21]  "Mission president in Zimbabwe killed, wife injured in car accident," LDS Church News, 4 August 1990.

[22]  "Accident claims mission president," LDS Church News, 19 May 2007.

[23]  "South Attack puts safety on Utahns' minds," LDS Church News, 6 July 2006.,5143,640192620,00.html

[24]  "Missionary dies in South Africa," LDS Church News, 18 January 2008.

[25]  "Slain missionary stood tall spiritually and physically," LDS Church News, 1 May 1999.

[26]  "Missionary death," LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.

[27]  "The Church in Africa: The dawning of a brighter day," LDS Church News, 8 October 1994.