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ARCHIVE: Polling in Recent Years Finds Most Africans Express Favorable Attitudes Toward U.S.
<i>(EDITOR&#39;S NOTE: The following article is based on a U.S. Congressional hearing in March 2007, before Africa Command was established. We are posting it on the AFRICOM website to contribute to public understanding and discussion of U.S. policy
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article is based on a U.S. Congressional hearing in March 2007, before Africa Command was established. We are posting it on the AFRICOM website to contribute to public understanding and discussion of U.S. policy in Africa. However, the views expressed in the hearing do not represent official U.S. policy.) In an era in which anti-American sentiment is voiced across the globe, a majority of Africans have continued to view the United States in a positive light, according to polling data presented to Congress in March 2007. A study conducted in 2002, called the Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey, found that Africans have the highest opinion of the United States, compared with other regions around the world. On March 28, 2007, Devra C. Moehler, a scholar in the field of African public opinion, testified before the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs to discuss the results of this survey and possible reasons for the widespread pro-Americanism in Africa. The hearing was not related to the February 2007 announcement of the creation of U.S. Africa Command. Instead, it was part of a series of Congressional hearings discussing attitudes toward the United States among foreign publics around the world. Between July and October 2002, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press conducted the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey to measure the attitudes of more than 38,000 individuals living in 42 countries, including 11 African nations: Angola, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. When asked, "Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of the United States," the majority of respondents in each African country expressed mostly favorable attitudes of the United States, especially when compared to other regions of the world, such as Eastern Europe, Industrial West, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. The proportion of respondents who expressed unfavorable attitudes towards the United States was as low as 9 percent in Ghana and never exceeded the 34 percent recorded in Senegal. "While there has been a lot of attention to the anti-American attitudes in much of the world, the positive example of Africa has received relatively little attention from either scholars or from policymakers," said Moehler. "I am hoping that my testimony today and my research can assist in the preservation of these positive attitudes within Africa, and perhaps even shed some light on what might help boost attitudes in the rest of the world." With regard to individual aspects of American society, Africans expressed mostly approval, especially in the areas of American behaviors, U.S. foreign policies, qualities, products, and accomplishments. The two areas of which Africans expressed criticism were U.S. policies and the spread of U.S. ideas and customs. However, the magnitude of the criticism was less severe in Africa than in other regions around the world. In her testimony, Moehler identified separate influences such as demographic and socio-economic characteristics, media exposure, personal contacts, and religion and discussed how certain traits distinguish individuals who approve of the United States from those who disapprove of it. Results from her data analysis indicate:Age, Internet use and radio use each have a negative influence on African approval of the United States meaning that greater age of respondents and the more they use radio and Internet, the less approving they are of the U.S. Factors such as wealth, television, international news, contacts in the U.S., and U.S. travel all have positive correlations to African approval of the U.S. Religion has the strongest effect on determining attitudes towards the U.S., with the Muslim religion having a strong negative effect and the Catholic religion having a strong positive effect. Based on the analysis of this data, Moehler identified several conclusions to explain the pro-American attitudes in Africa. First, the data results suggest that attitudes about the United States depend less on how much people hear about the U.S. and more on the source of their information. Due to their dependence on foreign aid, African governments are wary of criticizing Western powers. Therefore, Africans are primarily exposed to positive images of the United States in their government-controlled media. Moehler explained, "More diversified sources such as radio and Internet seem to reduce support for the United States while television, which is still largely government controlled in Africa, and international news programs, along with personal contacts with friends and family in the United States, or travel to the U.S. expands support." Secondly, the United States seems to benefit from its image as a source of economic and political opportunity as well as from its desirable pop culture. The public image of the United States in Africa tends to be one of immense wealth, educational and employment opportunities, political freedoms, and democracy. This idea of the United States as "The Land of Milk and Honey" appeals to young, educated, and urbanized men, as well as those who watch American television programming. Tied closely to this idea of economic prosperity, is the cross-fertilization between American and African culture, particularly with respect to popular culture. The visible presence of African-Americans in music videos, films, and fashion magazines promotes a feeling of cultural sharing and reinforces the image of the United States as multi-racial and a land of opportunity for Africans. Surprisingly, the United States' stance as an anti-colonial power does little to generate support for America. In fact, Moehler discovered from her data analysis that Africans tend to favor their former European colonizers over the United States due to their historical involvement. For example, former subjects of the British crown rated Britain better than the U.S. on average, while Africans who were not part of a former British colony rated the U.S. higher than Britain. Additionally, Africans do not appear to distinguish between the United States and Europe. Their views of Europe are positively correlated with positive views of the United States. Thus, racial tensions in Europe tend to evoke negative opinions of the United States as well. Moehler concluded her testimony by speculating on how African attitudes are likely to change in the future. Though the data presented was from 2002, before the Iraq War, subsequent studies had not indicated a significant change in attitude. Moehler cautioned that the United States needs to be proactive in maintaining its positive image in Africa. As African media diversifies and the Internet becomes readily available through the continent, Africans are more likely to see a plurality of news about the United States that they once lacked. To counter negative attitudes, the United States can improve its image by engaging in public diplomacy campaigns, increasing American points of contact, and increasing access to American goods, business opportunities, and cultural exchange. Issuing more work or travel visas and educational scholarships is another way to have lasting positive influences on Africans and their families and friends. Dr. Devra C. Moehler is Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University and an Academy Scholar for Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. She studies comparative politics with a focus on African politics, democratization, political communication and knowledge, political behavior, constitution-making, the creation of laws and norms, and political economy of development. Moehler's written testimony for the hearing is posted on the Website of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the link below: