There are some major differences between the attitudes of the United States and of China, and how these rub off on Africans. The general perception here is that In everything America does outside its shores, self-interest (read selfish) is paramount, and in an age where Africans are getting increasingly jealous of their autonomy and national pride, selfish governments eager to garrote Africa to milk it dry are kept at bay. Whatever accusations some may levy against China and its true intentions in Africa, there is something an African finds attractive in a Chinese who bends down with them to plough the field, mix cement, carry head pans of concrete and do menial carpentry jobs. No job is too menial for the Chinese laborer in Africa and for the African who values hard responsible work, it is an attitude that deserves respect. This creates a powerful image, different from that of a US construction boss coolly taking the breeze under the shade, with his proverbial whip, while his African employees slave it out. The workers bear with such attitude but resent it, and when a chance comes to choose, those arrogant bosses are soon dispensed with.
Both America and China have self-interested reasons to be in Africa. Economic: The United States desires to protect the many companies (especially oil prospecting) of its citizens, wants to ensure it retains access to a huge source of rich crude oil; Security: wants to take the fight to the perceived bases of its perceived enemies: Al Qaeda in Mali, Somalia… and now Boko Haram in Nigeria. China wants a market for its products and jobs for its citizens. While the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [read, United States] give dubiously conditional loans to Africa with stringent payment conditions, China gives interest-free, and unconditional loans. Tell me, which attitude will most win African minds?
The difference lies mainly in the approach. China studies Africa, identifies its real needs and tries to service those. Where an African country needs refineries, China offers mouthwatering options to help them build one; where they need roads, China makes a pleasant offer. African countries are getting their roads and refineries, China is getting its money and getting its people employed.
America on the other hand does not seem to first study Africa’s real needs. It studies US needs, finds that Africa holds the solution, spins a public relations yarn about their intentions and comes to Africa under subterfuges and behind dark glasses that hide its true intentions. The selfishness of most United States’ interventions here is known to every African and resented. That is part explanation of the open arms with which China is being received.