Author: Mogopodi Lekorwe, Anyway Chingwete, Mina Okuru, Romaric Samson.
Strategic collaboration with Africa has become a priority in the global North, East, and West.Powers that once saw the African continent primarily as a source of raw materials now focuson “partnership” and “development,” following the lead of the U.S. African Growth andOpportunities Act (AGOA) in highlighting mutual benefits of investment and trade.China, in particular, has rapidly increased its ties to the continent in recent years, with theForum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), formed in 2000, as the primary institutionalvehicle for its strategic engagement with sub-Saharan Africa (Pigato & Tang, 2015). China’strade with Africa has increased from about $10 billion in 2000 to $220 billion in 2014 and wasapproaching $300 billion in 2015 (China Daily, 2015). Steven Kuo (2015) reports that becauseof Africa’s price-sensitive market, the continent’s telecommunications and infrastructuredevelopment has become reliant on Chinese technology, which is competitively priced andenjoys strong back-up service compared to its Western competitors. Africa has also seenhuge growth in smaller Chinese investors in food outlets, retail shops, and textiles. China, onthe other hand, mainly imports minerals from Africa, along with smaller amounts of oil andagriculture products. It is also estimated that more than 1 million Chinese, most of themlabourers and traders, have moved to Africa in the past decade (Lu, 2013). Like trade arrangements with the West, China’s growing role in Africa has drawn criticism. Thishas included claims that China is in Africa only to access natural resources, that it wants tobuy up Africa’s land, and that it mainly employs Chinese rather than local labour (Esposito &Tse, 2015), although some researchers describe these claims as “myths” (Brautigam, 2015).Other critics have argued that many Chinese companies provide sub-standard services andproducts and under-sell and weaken local competitors. China has also been severelycriticized for its willingness to work with autocratic or less-than-transparent regimes, as inZimbabwe and Zambia. How do Africans see China’s foreign investment and influence in their countries? Findingsfrom Afrobarometer’s 2014/2015 surveys in 36 African countries, which included a specialseries of questions on China, suggest that the public holds generally favourable views ofeconomic and assistance activities by China. Africans rank the United States and China No.1 and 2, respectively, as development models for their own countries. Remarkably, in three offive African regions, China either matches or surpasses the United States in popularity as adevelopment model. In terms of their current influence, the two countries are outpaced onlyby Africa’s former colonial powers. Public perceptions not only confirm China’s important economic and political role in Africabut also generally portray its influence as beneficial. China’s infrastructure/development andbusiness investments are seen as reasons for China’s positive image in Africa, though thatimage is tainted by perceptions of poor-quality Chinese products.