This is according to a new survey of 20 000 people in 11 countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
The leadership of the Catholic church was thrown into disarray when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly resigned last month – the first such resignation in over 600 years.
The question of who would be next to lead the Catholic church will be decided in a papal conclave, which started on Tuesday. The church’s 115 cardinals vote in a secret ballot to elect the new pope, who must receive two-thirds of the vote.
There are no front-runners in this year’s conclave so it’s anyone’s guess who the next pope may be but of the 14 most likely candidates, two of them are from African countries – Ghana’s Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson and Guinea’s Robert Sarah.
According to the survey, 80% of Africans believe the continent is ready for an African pope, and 86% thought having an African pope would increase support for Catholicism on the continent.
Ready for an African pontiff
Respondents were a bit more realistic about the odds of this happening – only 60% of those surveyed thought the world is ready for it.
About two-thirds of those surveyed thought that the Vatican was ready for an African pontiff, while more than half believed the church would become more conservative under an African pope.
The survey also asked what an African pope would mean for the continent and for them personally. The responses ranged from enthusiasm to indifference.
“An African pope will bring about more unity on the continent and confidence in Africans,” said one young woman.
“Will he stop the ongoing war in some African countries?” asked one man. “He may be like the rest … and just stay in the church; anyway they don’t make any difference in Africa.”