In 2021, in the name of ‘increasing international solidarity,’ the French Government is seeking Senate approval to increase the aid it sends towards African countries and some with the goal of collectively fighting global challenges such as climate change, COVID-19, etc. However, some claim that these increases are an attempt to leverage on aid as a soft power instrument to challenge China’s growing geopolitical power. This two-part series explores the French public’s perceptions of areas of challenge and progress in the African countries and the extent to which China and France should be involved in the continent’s development.
In the first blog of this two-part series, we looked into whether the French public believes African countries are making progress in the areas that are perceived as challenging. We found that while the areas of progress do not overlap exactly with perceived challenges, the themes do. As explained in the first part of the blog, ‘areas’ refer to the specific challenges while ‘themes’ refer to their broader categories, such as ‘social inequality,’ ‘security’ and ‘political stability’. For example, the broader challenge of social inequality is being addressed through increased access to education, healthcare, and technology, which is likely to play a role in bringing people to an equal footing. For example, the broader challenge of social inequality is being addressed through increased access to education, healthcare, and technology.
In this blog we move our focus from issues of concern and areas of progress to the preferred source of financial and technical assistance for African countries facing these issues. Specifically, we consider public perceptions around the involvement of France and China in African development.
To learn about the French public’s attitudes towards these issues, we used data collected by a YouGov survey between 30th April - 5th May 2021. We ask two questions: what does the French public think of Chinese and/or French involvement in the development of these countries? And what factors affect people’s opinions about the involvement of France and China in the African continent?
The French public think that French involvement in the African continent is significantly more of a good thing than Chinese involvement, but 22% of respondents think that the involvement of both is positive.
The data show that in general, the public believe that involvement of France and/or China in the African continent’s development is more beneficial (42%) than not (18%). The French public think that French involvement in the African continent is significantly more of a good thing than Chinese involvement, but 22% of respondents think that the involvement of both is positive.
What does the French public think of Chinese and/or French involvement in Africa’s development?
The French public thinks that involvement of any type is better than no involvement at all. As seen in Figure 1, more people seem to think that involvement is a (very) good thing rather than a (very) bad one. On average, 42% of respondents think that the involvement of France and/or China is (very) good, as opposed to the 18% of respondents who think that such involvement is (very) bad. This is shown in the matrix in Figure 2, where the top left quadrant is highlighted, showing that more support goes towards the involvement of either France or China, or even of both countries. In either case, the French public thinks that some international involvement was perceived as being better than no involvement at all.
When comparing preferences between countries, we can see that a significantly higher proportion (50%) of French adults think that French involvement is a (very) good thing while 34% of the respondents think that Chinese involvement is a (very) good thing. This finding is also supported by the matrix in Figure 2, which shows that there is a significantly higher proportion of respondents who say, ‘Chinese involvement is a bad thing and French involvement is a good thing’ (10%) rather than ‘Chinese involvement is a good thing and French involvement is a bad thing’ (2%). Since the latter proportion is too small to be meaningful, there doesn’t seem to be a general sentiment among the French public that Chinese rather than French funding should be used for African countries’ development.
Although public opinion seems fragmented in the matrix, it is still clear that the consensus lies with people who believe that the involvement of both countries is the best option. This statement is also supported by a higher proportion of respondents favouring the involvement of France and/or China (42%) over having no involvement at all (18%).
What factors affect people’s opinions about the involvement of France and China in Africa?
We wanted to better understand how different characteristics of the French public affect their positions on the overlap of French and Chinese involvement in Africa. We divided our sample into four groups: Those who think that “neither French nor Chinese involvement in Africa is good,” the second who believe “only Chinese involvement in Africa is good,” the third who believe “only French involvement in Africa is good” and, finally the fourth group, made up of those who feel “French and Chinese involvement in Africa is good.” Figure 5 breaks down average profiles by age, income, perception of whether France is helping poorer countries enough and whether countries should cooperate on global challenges.
The most notable point is that those supporting the involvement of both countries in Africa are more in favour of cooperating to overcome global challenges (72% versus 28%) and are more likely to believe that France is doing enough to help poorer countries during the pandemic than those who prefer neither country to be involved, who think France is helping them too much.
To answer this question, we used a model to see how a range of factors can shift people’s opinion from preferring no Chinese and French involvement to preferring some degree of involvement from either or both. These factors are age, income, their understanding of what it is like to live in a developing country, whether they have visited Africa, agreement with the statement that the French government should help poorer countries during the pandemic, support for higher levels of education and support for global cooperation to overcome global challenges. The last three factors proved to be significant, but support for global cooperation was the essential ingredient to move people to supporting the involvement of either or both countries. It is also the factor that holds the greatest level of influence on public’s opinion out of all those mentioned before.
To sum up, the French public is in favour of French and/or Chinese involvement in African countries but is more inclined towards the involvement of their own government. These opinions are mostly dependent upon factors including high levels of education, the belief that France should help poorer countries in the pandemic, and support for global cooperation. By investing in a rapidly developing set of countries such as in Africa, France stands to gain economically and politically. As it is in their national interest, the French public are likely to favour the involvement of their country.