AS the European Union struggles to show some love for immigrants on its shores, it might be a bit unnerved to discover that the continent where many set out from has little affection to show for it in return.
A new survey of 135 countries by US-based pollster Gallup found that of the 17 countries where approval of the EU’s leadership has most declined, 12 were from the region, and all in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ethiopia, which has seen a lot of its citizens set out for Europe in recent years, had the lowest rating for the bloc at just 12%, a swing of 16 percentage points from its 2013 level.
The biggest change in attitude towards the EU came from South Africa, where a 19 point swing from 2013 saw just 48% of respondents giving the nod to the bloc, a major trade partner and with which it maintains historical links with through immigration.
The What people worldwide think of the US, China, Russia, the EU and Germany poll found that for the second year in a row, the leadership of the US was the most highly rated globally of the five major powers.
The median approval for American leadership was 45%, ahead of Germany at 41%, and the EU at 39%. Despite China’s increased investment in visibility only a median of 29% globally approved of its leadership, but higher than Russia’s at 22%.
The approval rates for the US peaked in 2009 at 49%, after Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, took office. In the two years preceding, the country under George W. Bush scored a global approval rating of 34%.
Why does it matter to these powers what the rest of the world thinks of them?
The pollster says this is because of the concept of soft power, popularised by global thought leader Joseph Nye and which refers to the amount of clout countries possess to get other countries to cooperate with them because they want to, not because they have to.
In other words, this influence is outside the traditional tools of economic sanctions and military might. Also, recent studies showed that public opinion about American foreign policy—and by extension that of the others—affects their policies towards the US.
“While foreign policy may not hinge on public opinion, leaders of the US, the EU, China, Russia and Germany would be wise to closely follow all of the data in this report,” Gallup World Poll managing director Jon Clifton said.
Senegal had the highest rating of the US in Africa, and globally, with eight in 10 Senegalese approving of American leadership.
Chad, Rwanda also each gave the US a rating of over 75%, but Ethiopia was again the African country that had the lowest rating for another western power, at 22%—a precipitous drop of 28 percentage points from the year before.
Approval of the EU’s leadership by Africa has declined. Source: Gallup
The country has in recent years become a major ally of the US war on terror, and it would appear to be suffering a hangover from the globalisation of the Cold War, particularly since it gives favourable ratings to Russia. However, there might be a growing number of Ethiopians who feel the US is not doing enough to pressure the government in Addis Ababa to ease press and other restrictions and improve human rights.
Uganda, which had a run in with the US leadership over gay rights, also cut support for it by 17 points while Malawi reduced its rating by 13 points. The latter country has been under pressure from international donors who slashed funding over corruption.
Surprising Tanzania attitudes
But Tanzania’s reduced support of 49%, a 12-point dip over 2013, was more complicated, given the country has always been a favourite stop of US leaders. Neighbour Kenya cut support by 10 points to 58%, a probably consequence of its top leadership being put on trial at the International Criminal Court.
Tanzania and Ethiopia continued their tough ratings mood, being the two African countries that reduced their support for Germany the most, in addition to Malawi and Uganda.
But Europe’s largest economy got a soft ride generally from the region, with Senegal again giving it the highest rating of its leadership, at 77%. The West African country also gives the highest rating to the EU, as do Rwanda and Burundi, both recovering post-conflict countries.
The biggest gain for the EU was from Madagascar, in which it has played a key role in the recovery from a costly electoral crisis that started in 2009.
China would be happy to note that its increased economic presence on the continent is yielding returns. While only 22 countries globally have majorities approving of Beijing’s leadership, all of these are in Africa.
The highest ratings are by Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
But Ethiopia again has the lowest rating of China of only 18%, despite a lot of Chinese-backed construction going on in the Horn of Africa country. Gabon, Tanzania and Uganda also give a distinctive thumbs down to the Asian country, despite recent investments.
Tanzania has among the lowest ratings for Russia in the region, with Malawi and South Africa also not too enamoured with Moscow, overseeing negative swings in opinion of 10 points. Ethiopia, which at one point embraced Marxism, is conspicuously missing from the captured extremes.
The overall take-home message is that Africa is just difficult to fathom.
The poll is based on face-to-face and telephone interviews of representative samples, Gallup says.