YOUNG ADULTS FROM 15 African countries see China as the foreign power with the biggest positive impact on their lives, a new survey shows. More than 70% gave the Chinese an upbeat review. This matters. By 2050, 80% of the world’s youth will be from Africa.
Why the love? The Chinese make promises of expensive, major infrastructure projects and actually deliver them, respondents said. They also provide modern, affordable products, and jobs for locals.
The survey, conducted by South Africa’s Ichikowitz Family Foundation, gathered the views of young people aged 18 to 24 across much of the African continent.
“The US and its corporations have been largely absent from Africa since the turn of the century, aside from a few high profile aid programs such as Barack Obama’s Power Africa Initiative,” said Antony Sguazzin of Bloomberg. “Meanwhile, Chinese firms have been building roads, dams and power plants.”
The tough truth is that providing help to poor nations is expensive and needs long-term commitment. Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa has been rising for years. From US$75 million in 2003, it rose to US$2.7 billion in 2019, according to the China Africa Research Initiative.
Chinese expensive infrastructure projects, from roads to bridges to sports stadiums, are there for everyone to see. “As Ivor Ichikowitz, the foundation’s founder, put it, the US’s role has been ‘embarrassingly insignificant’ in terms of actual investment,” Sguazzin said.
In the survey, almost half (47%) of respondents said China had a positive influence on their country and a further 35% said it had a very positive influence.
The results were even more remarkable in places where the Chinese had been more active. In Nigeria, the Chinese were seen as positive by 90%; in Malawi, by 95% and in Rwanda, by 97%. But the respondents with a negative attitude to China reflected general concern that foreign powers may just be interested in natural resources and would thus be interacting with African nations as “economic colonialism”.
China’s rise is even more remarkable considering the relentless negative press it receives in the international media, accusing it of playing hardball by financing infrastructure and “trapping” people with high interest rates.
In truth, Chinese interest rates tend to be similar or lower than those of other sources. It was announced this week that the Chinese are cancelling loans owed to them by 17 countries in Africa. Despite the accusations of high interest rates, all the loans had interest rates set at zero. The news received minimal coverage in the western media.