Media wars: A comparative assessment of the role of US-China media outlets in the battle for digital hegemony in Africa

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Thomas Lethoba


Between 2017 and 2018, US President Donald Trump introduced a Section 301 investigation into China’s trade practices following allegations of unfair trade practices against China (Bown & Kolb, 2018). The battlelines first emerged when China surpassed the US in 2009 to become Africa’s largest trading partner, having signed bilateral trade agreements with over 40 countries in the African continent. By the second decade of the 2000s, the rise of the digital economy, estimated to grow at between 15% and 25% annually in emerging countries (WEF, 2017), drew Africa into the crosshairs of the US-China trade war. Between 2018 and 2023, over 36 Chinese high-tech companies were blacklisted by the US, citing concerns over national security (Sevastopulo et al., 2022). Against this background, the article places the US-China standoff over digital supremacy in Africa in a media context, bringing novel dimensions into consideration that illuminate a media war focused on competing hegemonic agendas. The article springboards off Bastiansen et al. (2019, pp. 5-8) to argue that the trade war be- tween the two countries presents an ideal setting to study partisan and elite perspectives reflected in news reporting on the international conflict. By expanding the scope of analysis to the media as a mode of information, the article’s main departure point is that the trade war between the two countries that began in 2009, when China surpassed the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner, is being interlocuted through the agency of soft power, with media outlets playing a pivotal role in shaping public biases. A central theme emerging from the research is that media publications have clear biases. Generally, the US news media outlets analysed are heavily critical of the Chinese government and its cutting-edge technologies in Africa. In contrast, the popular Chinese media outlets analysed adopt a defensive stance in their responses to the US. Revealing this through thematic analysis can contribute valuable insights into the dynamics of the tech war between China and the US.



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How to Cite
Lethoba, T. (2023). Media wars: A comparative assessment of the role of US-China media outlets in the battle for digital hegemony in Africa. The Africa Governance Papers, 1(4). Retrieved from
Research Articles
Author Biography

Thomas Lethoba, The African Centre for the Study of the US at the University of the Witwatersrand




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