Foreign Aid and Soft Power: Great Power Competition in Africa in the Early 21st Century
Aug 22, 2019
Robert A. Blair, Robert Marty, Philip Roessler
Blair, R., Marty, R. and Roessler, M. (2019). Foreign Aid and Soft Power: Great Power Competition in Africa in the Early 21st Century. AidData Working Paper #86. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.
Update: A revised version of this paper has been published in the British Journal of Political Science.
Is foreign aid an effective instrument of soft power? Does it generate affinity for donor countries and the values they espouse? We address these questions in the context of Chinese aid to Africa and the (ostensibly) competing aid regime of the US. Using data on 38 African countries from Afrobarometer, AidData, and the Aid Information Management Systems (AIMS) of African finance and planning ministries, we find that, if anything, Chinese aid to Africa reduces beneficiaries’ support for China while increasing support for the US and other Western powers. By contrast, US aid increases support for the US and other Western powers. We also find that US aid increases support for liberal democratic values, such as a belief in the importance of elections. Chinese aid does not appear to weaken support for these values, and may actually strengthen support for them. Our results belie concerns that China’s expanding presence in Africa is diminishing American soft power or eroding Africans’ commitment to liberal democracy. If anything, the opposite is true.