Afrobarometer is the gift that keeps on giving. Every few years the survey company tracks public opinion in African countries about external partners. The result is a growing and fascinating body of work that shows African public opinion about actors like China shifting in real-time.
This time, it shows that framing the popularity issue in terms of China versus the United States is missing the real story. The polls show that “there is a mosaic of actors, both African and non-African, that citizens consider having political and economic influence on their countries and their futures.” These include the US and China, but also regional African powers (for example South Africa is a popular development model in Malawi,) Russia, and UN agencies.
This mosaic approach could be a positive indicator for Africa’s future. Allow me to explain via a highly dubious metaphor about candy.
Last year I was on a layover in Atlanta and I was hunting for snacks. Primed by many years of TV, I had expected American candy shelves to be a cornucopia, a sugar hallucination with varieties stretching to the horizon. The reality was – fine. There were Reese’s and M&Ms and the rest of the big hitters, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. It was a little underwhelming.
I was puzzling over my reaction. A big factor was that the main American brands are already present in Africa because they’re present everywhere. But the real reason is that Africans are maybe more used to things being from everywhere, that is, not tailored to them.
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