AD407: Africans regard China’s influence as significant and positive, but slipping

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Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny and Edem Selormey

Home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies (Mitchell, 2019), Africa has attracted the attention of leaders and economic strategists everywhere, including China. Over the past two decades, political and economic relations between China and Africa have grown rapidly, with trade volumes increasing from about $11 billion in 2000 to $185 billion in 2018 (Amoah, Hodzi, & Castillo, 2020; China Africa Research Initiative, 2018). China is the leading provider of financial support for infrastructure development for Africa, even though the United States is still the continent’s largest aid donor (Muchira, 2018; Shepherd & Blanchard, 2018).

However, China’s investments on the continent have been a topic of widespread scrutiny and debate. Because China’s financial support for Africa is often in the form of long-term loans rather than grants, it has been criticized as a “debt trap” that China may use to gain strategic advantages on the continent, with the United States and others warning Africa against succumbing to China’s “debt diplomacy” (Green, 2019). Some argue that African countries that borrow from China may lose key assets if they are unable to pay back their loans (Brautigam, 2019; Brautigam & Kidane, 2020; Sun, 2014).

How do ordinary African’s perceive China’s engagement in their countries and economies? Afrobarometer’s national surveys in 18 African countries in 2019/2020 show that while Africans hold positive views of China’s assistance and its political and economic influence on the continent, its perceived level of influence on African economies has nonetheless waned somewhat over the past five years. China remains second to the United States as Africans’ preferred development model. And among those who are aware of Chinese loans and development assistance to their countries, majorities are concerned about being heavily indebted to China.