(Bloomberg) — China has overtaken the US as the foreign power seen as having the biggest positive influence in Africa by young people, according to a survey released on Monday.
A survey conducted by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation found that 76% of 4,507 young Africans across 15 countries named China as a foreign power with a positive influence on their lives, compared with 72% for the US. In 2020, when the inaugural study of 18-to-24-year-olds was conducted, 83% of respondents saw the US’s influence as positive while the figure for China was 79%.
The results are further evidence that China is winning the battle against geopolitical rivals such as the US and the European Union for the hearts and minds of Africans. Beijing has plowed money into African infrastructure over the past two decades and supplies the continent with affordable consumer goods ranging from mobile phones and solar panels to shovels and plastics.
“We see China having climbed to pole position, we see a recognition of the fact that China is engaging in Africa at a time when when very few others are,” Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the foundation, said in an interview in Johannesburg. “In Africa, America has played a very very limited role, its actually played an embarrassingly insignificant role in terms of actual investment, actual trade, actual building of infrastructure.”
In addition to its vast mineral and energy resources, Africa has the world’s most youthful population and is seen as a potential market for the future by countries ranging from France to India. In terms of perceived positive influence, the US has now slipped behind the UK and European Union as well.
“There is no question that China is the dominant player in Africa today,” Ichikowitz said. “Overall we are seeing a much more positive approach to China, that’s going to drive a lot more engagement with China.”
Positive sentiment toward China was strongest in Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria. The survey, which involves lengthy face-to-face interviews, will be run annually.
Still, China’s influence is not seen as universally positive. Of those surveyed 56% said they believed the unverified conspiracy theory that Covid-19 was developed and intentionally spread by the Chinese government.
The survey also showed that young Africans have lost faith in their own governments, and are increasingly concerned about climate change and discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
Key Findings of the survey:
- 32% of young Africans said they were excited and optimistic about the future of their countries compared with 43% in the 2020 survey. Angolans, Zambians and Malawians were the most pessimistic of their countries while Nigerians had the dimmest view of the continent’s future.
- 39% said they wouldn’t take a Covid-19 vaccine even if it was easily available.
- The top priority for those surveyed was job creation.
- 72% of youth said they are concerned about climate change, citing worries ranging from droughts to increased pollution.
- More than half of those surveyed said they planned to emigrate in the next few years.
Ichikowitz founded the foundation and also heads Paramount Group Ltd., a South Africa-based defense and aerospace business.