China not among Africa’s top creditors

Tuesday October 16 2018

President Xi Jinping of China during the FOCAC summit in August 2018 where Kenya and Uganda were denied more loans. PHOTO | AFP

By Allan Olingo

Africa's external debt payments doubled between 2015 and 2017, the highest level since 2001, a new report shows.

According to research by financial pressure group Jubilee Debt Campaign, repayments grew to 11.9 per cent in 2017 from 5.9 per cent of their revenue in 2015, fuelled by an increase in loans from multiple lenders, a fall in commodity prices, and a rising dollar value.

The data shows that of external debt owed by African governments, 35 per cent is to multilateral lenders, 32 per cent to private lenders, around 20 per cent to China, and 13 per cent to other governments. However, interest rates tend to be higher on private-sector loans, which account for 55 per cent of interest payments, compared with China’s 17 per cent.

Tim Jones, an economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said that debt problems are worsening on the African continent due to opaque deals.

“We need new rules to make all lenders publicly disclose loans to governments at the time they are given. Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund needs to stop responding to debt crises by giving loans that bail out other lenders, from China to Western companies, incentivising them to continue lending recklessly. Instead, lenders need to be made to restructure and reduce debts,” Mr Jones said.

Data from the World Bank shows $130 billion of African debt is owed to other governments. Under this calculation, $72 billion is owed to China, with $40 billion owed to the Paris Club.


This leaves $18 billion owed to other governments, such as those in the Middle East. African governments made $12.8 billion payments to other governments in 2016, in principal and interest, which is 38 per cent of total external debt payments.

According to the financial campaigners, the continent’s heaviest debt load comes from private lenders, with $13.2 billion paid to private creditors (40 per cent), and $7.3 billion to multilateral institutions (22 per cent), making total external debt payments of $33.3 billion.

Less significant

China, which has recently received flak for its debt policy on Africa, is actually not in the league of top creditors of the continent.

“Recent news reports have claimed that China is responsible for causing new debt traps on the African continent. The new figures show that China’s role as a lender on the continent has indeed been growing, but its relative importance is less than often stated, especially in regard to countries currently in debt crisis,” the financial campaign group said in its report.

Of the 16 African countries rated by the IMF as in debt distress or at high risk of becoming so, on average 15 per cent of their debt is owed to China.

“China is therefore on average a less significant lender in debt crisis countries, than across the whole continent,” the Jubilee Debt Campaign said.