NAIROBI — China’s "no strings attached" aid is being abused by some African leaders who channel the lion’s share of funds to their home areas, US-led researchers found in the first georeferenced database of Chinese aid to the world’s poorest continent.

China is a favoured donor for many African presidents, weary of the conditions attached to western aid, ranging from combatting corruption to respecting gay rights. China’s policy of noninterference means it rarely intervenes in domestic issues. This makes it easy for corrupt politicians to use Chinese aid to reward political supporters, rather than direct it to the areas most in need.

"Our research found that the home regions of African presidents receive three to four times more Chinese aid," Roland Hodler, a professor of economics at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen, said in a statement.

"This suggests that the Chinese principle of noninterference in domestic affairs allows African presidents to use Chinese aid for patronage politics."

Researchers from German, Australian, Swiss and US universities mapped more than 1,600 Chinese official development aid projects, worth $84bn, in 50 African countries from 2000-12.

Africa receives more than half of the superpower’s global assistance. Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia were the largest recipients of Chinese aid. The researchers argue that projects funded for political reasons are less likely to contribute to development than those allocated on the basis of poverty or need.