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EXTERNAL INFLUENCE

Africans’ favorable view of China comes with one small caveat

A red flag with yellow stars on a pole.
Reuters/Thomas Peter
Africans still view China favorably despite concerns of rising debt
  • Carlos Mureithi
By Carlos Mureithi

East Africa correspondent

Published Last updated on

When it comes to discussions on China-Africa relations, debt is a common theme, with many saying Africa is overburdened by Chinese lending.

A new survey has found that despite these concerns, most African respondents view China’s economic and political influence on their countries favorably, saying it’s “somewhat positive” or “very positive.”

The survey, which was carried out by Afrobarometer, a Ghana-based pan-African nonprofit and research network, polled 48,084 respondents from 34 countries.

China is an important economic partner for Africa

The findings are likely to confirm China’s popularity in Africa despite criticism of the Asian country’s moves in the continent.

China is Africa’s largest economic partner, with huge lending for infrastructure development projects around the continent. Between 2000 and 2019, The Asian country entered loan commitments worth US$153 billion in Africa, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.

But China’s activities in the continent have been marred by accusations of debt-trap diplomacy because of the secretive nature of its loan contracts, and its infrastructure projects face allegations of environmental and human rights abuse. Still, some say China is using its influence to promote its political and economic ideologies in Africa.

But the Afrobarometer survey has found that Africans hold positive views of China’s assistance and influence on Africa, even though the perceived level of influence on the countries’ economies has declined over the past five years.

However, in terms of development models, China’s comes second to the US’ as Africans’ preferred choice, with 22% against 33%.

Only about 14% of the respondents consider China’s economic and political influence on their countries negative.

Looking at the past five years, surprisingly, positive views of China’s political and economic influence on Africa haven’t changed much on average across 30 countries surveyed in 2014-2015 and 2019-2021 despite various scandals.

Africans say their governments have borrowed too much from China

But the survey also unearthed some unfavorable findings for the Asian giant.

Less than half of the respondents know of Chinese loans or development assistance to their countries, but the majority of them—57%— are concerned about being heavily indebted to China and say their governments have borrowed too much money from the Asian country.

In terms of perception, Africans also think that China’s influence is on the decline. The proportion of Africans who said China’s economic activities in their countries have “some” or “a lot” of influence on their economies has declined over the past five years—from 71 to 59%—notably with the greatest reductions in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Niger, and Mali.

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