US loses its place as most influential power in Africa to China


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The United States lost its place as the most influential global power in Africa last year as its star status dimmed and other countries -China in particular- gained fans.

A new Gallup report shows median approval ratings of Washington — indicative of the country’s soft power — slipped from 59% in 2022 to 56% in 2023. 

Of the four global powers asked about, the US was the only one not to see its image improve across Africa in 2023. 

China’s approval in the region rose six percentage points, from 52% in 2022 to 58% in 2023, two points ahead of the US.

Germany’s leadership image improved too, albeit only from 51% to 54%, placing it and the US on similar footing. 

And after plummeting in 2022, Russia’s leadership remained the least popular, although its median approval rating increased by eight points in 2023 to 42% -rebounding to its level in 2021, before the invasion of Ukraine.

Last year, China recorded its highest leadership approval rating in Africa in a decade. In seven countries -many in western Africa- Beijing saw double-digit increases in approval compared with 2022. 

The largest of these came in Ghana (+15 points), Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal (+14 points each).

In all of these three countries, similar proportions of people disapproved of China’s leadership in 2022 and 2023. The decisive shift in approval came from a corresponding collapse in the proportion of people saying they did not have an opinion of Beijing.

In recent years, Chinese influence -and investment- on the African continent have soared.

China is now Africa’s biggest single trading partner. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative spans a significant chunk of the continent and invests heavily in infrastructure projects.

Although median approval of the US dipped by three points across Africa last year, Washington saw double-digit increases in approval ratings across seven countries -Ghana (+14 points), Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire (+13 points each), Tunisia (+12 points), Mozambique (+11 points), Senegal and Ethiopia (+10 points each) -overlapping the approval gains China experienced.

Despite these increases, US approval ratings fell sharply elsewhere -in Uganda (-29 points), Gambia (-21 points) and Kenya (-14 points). Of these three, only ally Kenya maintained majority approval. 

Ratings of US leadership were lowest in Libya (23%) and Somalia (25%).

The US has had an advantage over China’s leadership across the continent in most years since 2007, although there was essential ratings parity between 2016 and 2019. 

But in 2023, China nudged ahead by two points over the US. Washington and Beijing’s rivalry on the continent is centred on many geopolitical issues, including a race to secure access to precious minerals and disputes over debt relief.

Continued next page

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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