In consecutive days this month, from 20-22 January, a trio of Africa’s brightest lights for freedom and accountability were violently extinguished. ... In just 72 hours, three of the continent’s most intrepid and well-respected leaders had been silenced.
Despite all that’s happened over the past 3.5 years of his presidency, the president’s poll numbers have remained largely intact, proving that statement to be quite prescient.
In many ways, the same can be said for the Chinese in Africa.
In the five year interim since the respected public opinion research agency Afrobarometer conducted surveys on African citizens’ perceptions of China’s engagement on the continent, positive views of the Chinese were either stable or edging higher in most countries.
Overall, across the 18 countries that Afrobarometer surveyed, 59% of the people think that China’s economic and political influence in Africa is mostly positive.
That is a remarkable figure, especially in this day and age when China is such a polarizing actor in many other parts of the world.
And just as many journalists, intellectuals, and coastal elites completely misread the US electorate in 2016, missing the boiling populist resentment that propelled Trump to the White House, the Afrobarometer data suggests that a lot of analysts who condemn China’s presence in Africa may also be misreading public sentiment.
The article continues below
Get your free PDF: Brace for impact
Coping with coronavirus
Complete the form and download, for free, The Africa Report’s Brace for impact. Get your free PDF by completing the following form
Despite seemingly endless media coverage and social media discussion about Chinese “debt traps,” imported labour, substandard Chinese products, neo-colonialism, counterfeit goods and so on, the data suggests that China’s positive public perception in many African countries remains surprisingly durable.
There’s an important lesson here for the United States government and other China hawks about efficacy of the debt trap critique that they’ve employed for the better part of a decade: research clearly demonstrates that it simply isn’t working and they’d be well advised to find a new messaging strategy.
For others, including myself, the challenge here is to push beyond the boundaries of our personal feedback loops and constantly question the embedded narratives that can prevent an accurate understanding of how people across the continent feel about the Chinese presence in their countries.
This article first appeared on the China Africa Project.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.View subscription options