by Magali Rheault and Justin McCarthy
This article is part of a series on well-being and development trends in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on 12 nations that Gallup has surveyed every year since 2007.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — While President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa rekindled the debate over whether the U.S. or China exerts more influence there, findings from 11 African countries reveal that despite declining approval ratings of U.S. leadership, many Africans are still more likely to approve of U.S. than of Chinese leadership.
Approval of U.S. leadership has dropped in all of these countries since 2009, ranging from more tempered declines in the single digits in Senegal and Mauritania to large double-digit drops in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. In all countries except Chad, U.S. leadership lost more approval than China’s leadership. It should be noted, however, that in 2014, relatively high proportions of Africans in several countries did not express an opinion about the leadership of the U.S. or China.
The highest approval ratings for both the U.S. and China in 2014 came from the Sahel region. Senegal and Chad had the highest approval ratings of U.S. leadership performance, while Niger and Senegal had the highest approval ratings of Chinese leadership performance.
In Eastern Africa, which Obama visited in late July, approval fell significantly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. In this region, percentages of those who didn’t know or refused ranged from 11% in Kenya to as high as 41% in Uganda. Still, this does not fully account for the declines in U.S. approval in all countries such as Kenya, where approval dropped significantly and disapproval rose.
Of the three countries in Eastern Africa where Gallup has polled consistently over the past eight years, approval of U.S. leadership remains highest in Kenya — where Obama has family ties on his father’s side — with a majority of 58%. Still, approval of U.S. leadership among Kenyans has fallen 35 percentage points throughout Obama’s tenure, while approval of China’s leadership has gained five points.
The changes in views of the job performance of the two major world powers’ leadership makes ratings about equal in Kenya and Tanzania, while Ugandans are slightly more approving of U.S. leadership. In Kenya, where approval of Chinese leadership has been fairly stable except for a large spike in 2011, the declining approval of U.S. leadership since 2009 eventually closed the gap between the two.
Since the launch of the World Poll in 2005, sub-Saharan Africa is the region where approval of U.S. leadership has been the highest in the world. After Obama was elected in late 2008, Africans’ approval of U.S. leadership topped 75% in many African nations. Although their approval has been declining in recent years, such a decline is not mirrored by an increase in Africans’ approval of China’s leadership. Rather, Africans’ attitudes toward China have remained relatively stable over the years.
The findings also underscore the need to analyze results at the country level because each one has its own specific needs and interactions with the U.S. and China. The two countries’ engagement across the continent also has been quite different, with greater emphasis on human development and governance for the U.S. and a deeper focus on infrastructure for China. But for Africans, the U.S. vs. China positioning in their countries is not necessarily a zero-sum game, but rather one of complementary roles in many areas in great need of investment and development.
These data are available in Gallup Analytics.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted every year between 2009 and 2014 in Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.4 percentage points to ±4.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup’s Country Data Set details.