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China in Africa: The Real Story

African Public Opinion on China

Deborah Brautigam

Today a student asked me if I had any information on African public opinion about Chinese immigrants. Recently, a number of news articles have described a growing backlash against immigrant Chinese in places like Angola and Namibia. I don't know if survey data is collected on this issue (and I suspect it would be mixed at best: Chinese traders and operators of small service businesses are patronized by African consumers, but local businesses resent the competition). But we do have fairly good data on public opinion about "China" collected by the Pew Global Opinion Polls. I checked their 2010 report to see how "Africa" (in this case, only Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya) stands in its views of China -- and, for comparison, the US.

The data were surprising. Views of China (see left) in Kenya were 86% favorable (US: 94%, see below), and in Nigeria, 76% favorable (US: 81%). In Egypt, however, opinion was more evenly divided: 52% were positive about China, while only 17% viewed the US favorably.


In Nigeria and Kenya, 90% of those surveyed thought that China's growing economy was a good thing for their country, compared with only 40% who thought so in the United States.

This public opinion survey, by one of the most trusted names in surveying, suggests that we should be cautious about drawing broad conclusions about a growing backlash of public opinion against China across Africa.

At the same time, Chinese labor relations in many countries continue to be very poor. For example, in October this year, Chinese managers at Zambia's Collum Coal Mine sprayed 11 protesting Zambian mine workers with buckshot, wounding two seriously (three Chinese were apparently also wounded, although it is not clear how or how badly). Events like this, over time, will chip away at the favorable public opinion of China in Africa.