August 4, 2014

U.S., China compete to woo Africa

The U.S. and China have been jockeying for economic influence in Africa in recent years as the region experiences robust GDP growth and presents more opportunities for investment.

FT_africa-views-of-us-chinarecent Pew Research Center survey shows that neither world power has a clear advantage when it comes to the hearts and minds of people in Africa. Among the seven sub-Saharan African countries polled this year, at least six-in-ten in each nation say they have a favorable view of the U.S., including roughly three-quarters or more in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Senegal. Broad majorities also rate China positively. The one exception is South Africa – just 45% express a favorable view of China, compared with 68% for the U.S.

Such questions are particularly important to U.S. officials this week as presidents and prime ministers from across Africa converge on Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The meeting is billed by the Obama administration as the “largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government” and is meant to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between the U.S. and African nations. Meanwhile, China has become Africa’s largest trading partner – surpassing the U.S. in 2009 – and just this year announced the formation of the “Africa Growing Together Fund,” a $2 billion investment vehicle created in partnership with the African Development Bank Group.

African nations have generally welcomed economic engagement from the U.S. and China. In a 2013 poll we found that in six countries surveyed, widespread majorities said both world powers have a great deal or fair amount of influence on their nation’s economy and that economic influence is positive. For example, 82% of Kenyans said America affects economic conditions in their country and an equal percentage said the same about China. Among Kenyans who saw an American and Chinese impact on their economy, roughly eight-in-ten said that impact was a good thing.

When asked which country – the U.S. or China – is more important to have strong ties with, many nations were divided between favoring a good relationship with the U.S. and volunteering that a partnership with both powers is more important. Ugandans were the only ones who clearly leaned towards the U.S. (52%) while Nigerians were the most likely to value ties with China (37%).

Nonetheless, Chinese investment in many African countries has led to questions. China has been accused of importing labor rather than providing local jobs, exploiting African workers, increasing countries’ public debt and flooding African markets with cheap goods to the detriment of local businesses. In 2013, Nigeria’s former central bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, described China as perpetrating a new “colonialism,” arguing that the billions of dollars of Chinese investment has done little to improve the lives of African people.

FT_africa-views-china-economyThis year, there are hints that support for economic investment from China may be waning in some African nations. While at least half in six of the seven countries polled in 2014 say that China’s growing economy is good for their country, this view is less prevalent than it was in previous years in most countries. The decline has been particularly steep in Ghana (down 25 percentage points since 2007), Nigeria (down 22 points since 2010) and South Africa (down 15 points since 2008).

Topics: China, Sub-Saharan Africa, World Economies

  1. is a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project.

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin Smith3 months ago

    I returned in May after some time in Sierra Leone. The influence of the British and Chinese can be seen everywhere. Sure, the Chinese will build them a beautiful highway from Freetown to Makeni, but only because corrupt politicians hand over gold and diamond mine rights to them in exchange. Everyone gets to use the new highway, politicians get to crow about it and the highway markings match the ruling party’s team colors. But, in exchange, they exploit the workers; many are making $2 USD/day so China has unfettered access to gold and diamonds. Women and children are seen everywhere smashing large rocks into gravel to line these grand highways and other infrastructure projects.
    Little gets done there that isn’t tied to British or Chinese influence. The U.S. is trying, but no ambassador isn’t helping.

    Reply
    1. MR. Xu2 months ago

      $2 dollars a day? It may be bad for you. For a person who has no job and live in a country as poor as Sierra Leone, things are very different.

      corrupt politicians? Corruption exists in every country, including the United States. It’s ultimately is a problem of Sierra Leone. Blaming it on China is unfair.

      Reply