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In the eyes of Africans, China rivals the United States in influence and popularity as a development model, according to a new Afrobarometer report released on World Development Information Day.

Despite criticism in the media of China’s interests and operations in Africa, most everyday Africans view China’s economic and political activities on the continent as a welcome contribution to their national development. China’s investments in infrastructure and business development, along with its low-cost products, contribute to positive public perceptions of China.

The report (Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 122), based on almost 54,000 interviews in 36 African countries, is being released on 24 October 2016 (World Development Information Day) and is available at

Key findings

— On average across 36 African countries, China is the second-most-popular model for national development (cited by 24% of respondents), trailing only the United States of America (30%). About one in 10 respondents prefer their former colonial power (13%) or South Africa (11%) as a model.

— Countries and regions vary widely in their admiration for various development models. In Southern and North Africa, China matches the United States in popularity, and in Central Africa, China takes the lead (35% vs. 27%). In five Southern African countries (Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe). South Africa is the most highly regarded development model.

— A plurality of Africans see their former colonial power as wielding the greatest external influence in their country (28%), followed by China (23%) and the United States (22%). China’s influence is perceived to be highest in Zimbabwe (55%), Mozambique (52%), Sudan (47%), Zambia (47%), South Africa (40%), and Tanzania (40%).

— Almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans say China’s influence is “somewhat” or “very” positive, while only 15% see it as somewhat/very negative. Favourable views are most common in Mali (92%), Niger (84%), and Liberia (81%).

— A majority (56%) of Africans also see China’s development assistance as doing a “somewhat” or “very” good job of meeting their country’s needs.

— The most important factors contributing to a positive image of China in Africa are its infrastructure/development and business investments and the cost of its products (Figure 5), while the quality of its products gives its image a black eye. Political and social considerations rank low among factors affecting China’s image on the continent.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa. Five rounds of surveys were conducted between 1999 and 2013, and findings from Round 6 surveys (2014/2015) are currently being released. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples that yield country-level results with margins of error of +/-2% (for samples of 2,400) or +/3% (for samples of 1,200) at a 95% confidence level.

Interested readers should check for previous and upcoming Afrobarometer releases.

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