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Fifth Estate

Why young Africans are looking up to China more than the US

China has surpassed the United States in having the biggest positive influence in Africa by young people, Bloomberg reported. According to the survey of 4,507 young Africans from 15 countries conducted by the South Africa-based Itchkowitz Family Foundation, 76 percent of respondents saw China as a foreign country that has a positive impact on their lives, compared to 72 percent for the US.

When the foundation first surveyed 18-to-24-year-olds in Africa in 2020, 83 percent of respondents saw the US’ influence as positive compared to 79 percent for China. Over the past two decades, China has funded infrastructure in Africa and provided the continent with affordable consumer goods such as mobile phones, solar panels and shovels.

“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 very few others are,” Ivor Ichikowitz, chairman of the foundation, said in an interview in Johannesburg.

Ichikowitz noted that in Africa, the US has played a very limited role, and it actually played an embarrassingly insignificant role in terms of actual investment, trade, and building of infrastructure. “Overall, we are seeing a much more positive approach to China, that’s going to drive a lot more engagement with China,” he said.

A positive view toward China was strongest in Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria. By 2030, young Africans are expected to make up 42 percent of the world’s youth. According to the survey, the US has now lagged behind the United Kingdom and the European Union as well in terms of perceived positive influence.

Now, the results of this survey is a clear indication that the U.S. soft power is waning at a very fast rate. A major reason

The US must have long been aware of the shifting trend, which informs the massive disinformation and misinformation campaign against China in Africa. A good example are the unsubstantiated claims of China pushing African countries to a debt trap by loaning them more money than they can repay within the stipulated periods. This has been debunked after the facts of the infrastructural contracts were brought to light and the recipient countries confirmed they were not unduly stressed.

Recently, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired an expose of alleged racist videos taken by Chinese nationals in some African countries for entertainment back home. While no one can defend such actions, it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black and trying to divert the conversation. The horrors of Western racism against Blacks are still fresh in the minds of Africans both in the continent and diaspora, from slavery to colonialism. Racism against Blacks reared its head in the US in 2020 after the death of Black American George Perry Floyd Jr. in the hands of White police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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In the last couple of decades, thousands of Africans have made sponsored educational and professional tours to China with the aim of gaining exposure of the Chinese socio-economic and even political system. Millions of Africans comprising the bulk of the youth demography have benefited from trading in Chinese fast moving consumer goods and electronics. Conversely, China is supporting millions of Africans’ livelihoods through the importation of agricultural produce from the continent.

But China does not seek competition with the US. On Tuesday, Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that China firmly opposes using competition to define its ties with the US. Jiechi stated that the three principles proposed by President Xi Jinping – mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation – are the correct approaches for China and the United States in getting along with each other.

The foregoing statement is a reiteration of a statement in November, 2021 by Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who had stated categorically that China is not looking to “surpass or replace” the US the world stage. “China’s goal has never been to surpass or replace the United States or engage in zero-sum competition with the US,” said Zhao. “Our goal is to constantly surpass ourselves, become a better China and enable the Chinese people to lead better lives.”

Anyway, there is no hiding the fact that China’s steadfastness in its fight for a more just and equitable world is endearing the country to those who have long been oppressed by the current predominating zero-sum game perpetuated by the US and its allies. China’s mantra of creating a word with a shared destiny and win-win outcomes is the new “gospel” for the 21st Century. 

[Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, lecturer-scholar at the United States International University-Africa, author and international affairs columnist]

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