August 30, 2022
TOKYO — Even at the end of an eighth Japan-led international conference on African development, Japan’s steady assistance to various African countries over many years has seemingly not left much of an impression, mainly because of China.
“Chinese, they are very strategic,” said Prof. Macharia Munene of United States International University-Africa in Kenya, adding that China is better at public relations than Japan.
“Sometimes we have a joke in Nairobi,” he said. “Japanese build some good road networks and people think it is the Chinese who did it. Which basically means that the Japanese PR is not as good as it should be.”
China’s reputation has been rising as Beijing aids Africa’s development with huge infrastructure investments.
According to a public opinion survey of 34 African countries released in 2021 by Ghana-based research organization Afrobarometer, 63% of Africans gave positive assessments for “the economic and political influence of China in their country.” The figure is the highest among all choices, with the United States at 60%, United Nations at 57% and even their former colonial power — with which they have strong historical ties but also intense opposition to colonial rule — at 46%. Japan was not even in the list of choices for the question.
While wary of debt traps, Africans positively view China because of factors such as Beijing’s support for their independence struggles against European colonial rule across the continent and its strategic approach to place importance on Africa since the Cold War.
China’s stance not to interfere in internal affairs is also welcome by African countries.
For example, Zimbabwe has been under sanctions imposed by the West due to human rights violations and the authoritarian administration’s oppression of the opposition. But the country built its new parliament building, completed in June, with China’s assistance.
According to a Kenyan newspaper, Zimbabwe’s information minister welcomed the construction of the building, saying it symbolizes deep relations between the two countries.
Russian military support
What has also been notable is for leaders of diverse multiethnic African countries where their central government is on shaky ground to seek military assistance from foreign nations to stay in power.
According to the Swedish Defense Research Agency and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia has entered military pacts with more than 20 African nations and it is the largest exporter of weapons to the sub-Saharan region. Mercenaries from Russian private military company Wagner Group have been dispatched to countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali, both with internal conflicts.
In the voting on a U.N. resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during an emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly in March, about a third of all African nations abstained, highlighting the differing stances from Japan, the United States and other Western countries.