AD489: Africans welcome China’s influence but maintain democratic aspirations

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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 $192 billion in 2019

(Amoah, Hodzi, & Castillo, 2020; China Africa Research Initiative, 2018; Thomas, 2021). While the United States is still the continent’s largest aid donor, China is the leading provider of financial support for infrastructure development in Africa (Muchira, 2018; Shepherd & Blanchard, 2018, Thomas, 2021).

However, China’s investments and dealings with Africa 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 (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). Others are concerned that China is using its influence to promote its political ideas on the continent (Scott, 2021).

How do ordinary Africans perceive China’s engagement with their countries and economies?

Afrobarometer’s national surveys in 34 African countries in 2019/2021 show that Africans hold positive views of China’s assistance and influence on the continent, though its perceived level of influence on African economies has waned over the past five years. Positive views of China’s influence do not appear to affect Africans’ attitudes toward democracy. China remains second to the United States as the preferred development model for Africans. And majorities of those who are aware of Chinese loans and development assistance to their countries are concerned about being heavily indebted to China.