By Mpho Tebele
GABORONE-CHINA’S popularity in Africa and influence in the continent is very strong, a report released by Afro barometer revealed this week.
The report states that for Africans, China rivals the United States in influence and popularity as a development model.
Researchers found that despite considerable criticism in the media of China’s interests and operations in Africa, Africans view China’s emergence favourably.
Africans clearly recognise the importance of China’s economic activities in their countries: Across 35 countries, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents say these activities have “some influence” or “a lot of influence” (27 percent).
In particular, its investments in infrastructure and business development, along with its low-cost products, contribute to positive perceptions of China.
Africans value China’s development assistance and see its influence as more rewarding than detrimental to their country’s development prospects.
Respondents were asked: Which of the following factors contributes most to positive images of China in [your country], or haven’t you heard enough to say?
China’s influence is most widely perceived in Zimbabwe (55 percent), reflecting the government’s 2003 “Look East” policy, and Mozambique (52 percent), Sudan (47 percent), Zambia (47 percent), South Africa (40 percent), and Tanzania (40 percent). In Mauritius, India (33 percent) is perceived as the most influential external power.
Not surprisingly, the report says, Liberia overwhelmingly sees the United States as most influential (87 percent). The United States also takes the top spot in Uganda (40 percent), Nigeria (39 percent), Kenya (39 percent), Burundi (35 percent), Morocco (35 percent), Ghana (33 percent), Malawi (32 percent), Cape Verde (31 percent), Egypt (29 percent), and Botswana (27 percent). Former British colonies tend to be far less likely to see the United Kingdom as most influential, instead balancing their assessments between the United States and China (and South Africa, in the case of countries in the Southern Africa region).
As the former colonial power, France takes first place as a development model in Tunisia (30 percent), Niger (27 percent), Benin (27 percent), and Mauritius (25 percent) and makes a strong showing as well in Mali (33 percent), Madagascar (29 percent), and Burkina Faso (27 percent).
In general, the report says, Africans welcome China’s economic and political influence in their countries.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents see it as “somewhat positive” or “very positive” (28 percent), while only 15 percent see it as “somewhat” or “very” negative. A significant proportion (22 percent) see China’s influence as neither positive nor negative or say they “don’t know.”
The survey says countries differ greatly in their assessments of China’s economic influence, ranging from only about one-third positive in Algeria (33 percent), Ghana (34 percent), and Morocco (35 percent) to better than four-fifths in Mali (92 percent), Niger (84 percent), and Liberia (81 percent).
The survey says that countries with the highest negative perceptions of China are Madagascar (39 percent), Tunisia (39 percent), Ghana (36 percent), and Algeria (35 percent).
Regionally, the influence of China’s economic activities is overwhelmingly seen as positive in West Africa (72 percent), Central Africa (70 percent), and East Africa (68 percent). Views are somewhat less favourable in Southern Africa (59 percent positive vs 21 percent negative) and North Africa (42 percent positive vs 29 percent negative).
The researchers found that at the country level, at least six in 10 Mauritians (60 percent), Kenyans (69 percent), Gabonese (73 percent), and Zambians (73 percent) see China’s investments in infrastructure development and business as the factors contributing most to a positive image.
In countries whose citizens place less emphasis on China’s infrastructure, development and business investments, the low cost of Chinese products is often seen as a top factor in China’s positive image, as in Madagascar (50 percent), Burkina Faso (40 percent), Senegal (40 percent), Côte d’Ivoire (34 percent), and Morocco (33 percent).
According to the survey, views on China’s economic and political influence are somewhat more favourable among men (66 percent somewhat/very positive) than women (60 percent).
However, the survey which was conducted in 36 countries found that there are a number of factors which are liable to tarnish China’s good reputation among Africans.
“Citizens highlighted issues having to do with the quality of Chinese products,” said Anyway Chingwete, co-author of the survey.
More than a third of Africans (35 percent) feel the products they buy from China are not up to standard. Other negative perceptions are China’s extraction of resources from the continent, land grabbing and taking away jobs and trade from Africans. On the positive side are Chinese investments in infrastructure and other projects, business partnerships and the low cost of imported products.