African Youth Views of the United States

12.04.13

African Youth Views of the United States

12.04.13
Pete SouzaPete Souza

The purpose of this YPIA survey and special report is to get a general feel of the attitudes of the African youth towards America. This was achieved by surveying students from over 14 African countries, all currently studying in South African universities. The questions were based on Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project to ensure comparable data. The students were also given an opportunity to express their feelings on the topic via an open ended comment section at the end of the YPIA survey. Overall, African youth have a positive attitude towards America and Americans.

More than half of the individuals surveyed expressed a favorable opinion of the U.S. and Americans in general. However, it appears they like Americans more than the country itself. Only 57% of the respondents were in favor of the U.S. compared to 64% in favor of Americans. These marks were significantly lower than Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project 2013 that asked the same question: “Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of: a. The United States.”

Pew Research has found over the years that Africans overwhelmingly offer favorable assessments of the U.S. with roughly seven-in-ten or more see America in a positive light. However, this view is more common among among Christians than Muslims. “Great people. Horrible politics,” writes one South African on the YPIA survey, while another student argues most of the American people aren’t bad, “quite friendly actually,” but their policies (internal and external) need to be redefined.

Obama is a confident leader but his policies are not looked upon favorably, especially drone strikes. He has also not handled Israel/Palestine and Climate Change well

The African youth are more confident than not in Obama, 63% to 34%. This correlates with the Pew Research data. Pew found that the public in Africa give Obama high marks with clear majorities in nearly every African country surveyed. Some youth, such as a student from Swaziland feels: “American leadership is very strong and has an influence in the global arena.” A South African youth writes: “Obama has done well for the USA. I would hope that our president would take a few pointers from him.” However, another student believes “Obama is a puppet leader.”

(Read the report by clicking here)

The crucial issues begin to pop up when a closer examination of the survey data on specific policies takes place. Seventy-two (72%) of the students surveyed feel the U.S. does not take into account the issues of African countries when making international policy decisions. They are also strongly against drone strikes – 63% disapproving and 23 % approving – and the handling of the Israel/Palestine situation with 59% of respondents saying President Obama has not been fair.

They like American democracy, but they don’t like the U.S. spreading it

Similar to the Pew data, the African youth like the idea of American democracy. However, when asked whether it is good or bad that American ideas and customs are spreading in your country, 49% of the YPIA survey respondents said it is bad, 37% answered it is good and 14% chose don’t know/refuse to answer.

One South African commented that America is “stable and governed under a strong system of democracy.” A Zimbabwean student “likes the democracy it has but it also have to know that countries cannot follow its steps.” A student from the Seychelles feels Americans have a system of “the hypocrisy of democracy.”

Unfamiliar with certain US policies/programs or perhaps unsure, but one thing is for certain….they like American movies and television

Comparable to the Pew Global Attitudes 2013 Report, there are a number questions with large numbers of “don’t know/refuse” responses. For instance, 29% of the individuals surveyed on their approval or disapproval of the international policies of President Obama could or would not give an answer. Between 8-12% percent of Americans answer the same way. A similar situation occurred when African youth where asked about America being a major contributor of development aid and assistance to South Africa and whether they favored Obama’s economic policies — 25% don’t know or refuse. African youth also appear a little unsure about the US-led war against terrorism, which is growing in Africa, with 43% in favor and 38% not.

And last but not least, the findings of the survey undoubtedly show that African youth are fond of American television and movies with 82% of the respondents answering “I like” compared to 13% “dislike.” This is significantly higher compared to the recent Pew data which shows a median of 58% for the six African countries surveyed.

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