Poll: Is foreign investment good for Africa?

The significant increase in foreign investment in Africa over recent years is a matter of much debate. Overseas companies are buying long-term rights to natural resources and land. Some say this brings much needed investment to Africa, while others have concerns about loss of local control over valuable resources.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent 22-nation survey for BBC World Service think that the recent increase in overseas investment in Africa will prove to be a good thing for the continent, with African citizens among the most upbeat.

The findings of the poll, conducted by GlobeScan among 21,558 people, show that most respondents are comfortable about foreign companies purchasing long-term rights to African natural resources and land, with a majority rating such investments as either “very good” (19%) or “somewhat good” (44%) for the continent. Africans are among the most positive about this development, with Nigerians the most likely to rate it as a good thing for Africa (85%), a view shared by three in four Kenyans (75%) and Ghanaians (72%).

China, the source of much of the current foreign investment in Africa, is also positive about it, with nearly two-thirds of Chinese rating it as a good thing (64%) and only 18% rating it as a bad thing. However, a much smaller proportion (47%) of Indians rates the wave of foreign investment in Africa as a good thing.

Germany is the most doubtful, with over half of Germans (56%) reporting that the increase in overseas investment in Africa is a bad thing for the continent. Nearly half of French respondents (44%) feel the same.

The poll also asked respondents to indicate how optimistic they were that Africa would experience “major economic growth” over the next 20 years. It reveals that large majorities in the four African nations polled are either “very” or “somewhat” optimistic that this growth will take place. 85% feel this way in Egypt, 80% in Nigeria, 75% in Kenya, and 74% in Ghana – higher proportions than in all other countries polled.

Globally, almost six in ten citizens (58%) are optimistic about Africa’s economic prospects, compared to 33% who are pessimistic. Citizens of developing nations in Asia and Latin America are among the most optimistic about Africa’s prospects, but optimists also outnumber pessimists in India (55% vs 26%), the USA (55% vs 42%), and China (50% vs 36%).

However, the poll also reveals that some of the developed nations that have been major aid donors to Africa over the years are among the most pessimistic that Africa’s economy will see a sustained improvement. Germans are again the most downbeat, with seven in ten (70%) pessimistic, compared to just 29% who are optimistic. Pessimists also outnumber optimists in the UK (58% vs 38%) and France (56% vs 41%).

“There is little evidence that the sovereignty concerns some policy experts have expressed over long-term Chinese investment in Africa have registered with average citizens. Most people around the world think recent foreign investment is good for Africa, and expect significant economic growth there over the next decade or two. Africans themselves are the most positive,” commented GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.