More African countries are looking East for inspiration on how to grow and manage their economies. According to a survey by Afrobarometer, China is the second-most popular international presence on the continent, only slightly behind the United States. ”China rivals the United States in influence and popularity as a development model,” the report, released today (pdf), concluded.
About 30% of 56,000 people surveyed in 36 African countries ranked the US as the most popular model for national development, compared to 24% who ranked China first.
However, in several regions—Southern Africa, North Africa, and Central Africa—the popularity of China’s example of state-led economic growth matched or outpaced that of the US.
Several aspects of China’s rise from one of the world’s poorest countries to its second-largest economy in the span of three decades likely resonate in African countries. Agriculture is the largest employer (pdf, p. 20) in sub-Saharan Africa, but African farmers are some of the least productive in the world. China, once a mostly agrarian society, implemented sweeping reforms in the 1970s that improved efficiency and helped the country industrialize.
In China, government corruption, a problem in a number of African countries, has been reined in enough that needed infrastructure, public services, and decent roads have still been funded. (In countries like Kenya, degraded roads are often blamed on the siphoning off of public funds.) China’s state-led economic reforms and prioritization of stability over an active civil society has been appealing for countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda, which have followed a similar model.
It’s not certain that China’s model of development is one to be emulated. Some analysts blame ongoing unrest in Ethiopia on the country’s heavy handedness and focus on economic growth over personal freedoms. And China’s economic miracle has also begun to see cracks.
Still, admiration for China’s economic growth seems to be outweighing the steady stream of negative coverage of Chinese in Africa as scammers and animal poachers, or the persistent rumor that Chinese companies bring in prison labor instead of hiring local workers. According to Afrobarometer’s analysis, almost two thirds of those surveyed described China’s presence on the continent as “somewhat” or “very” positive.
“Despite considerable criticism in the media of China’s interests and operations in Africa, Africans view China’s emergence as an addition to the economic playing field,” Afrobarometer said.