The African Debt Guide

The economic effects of COVID-19 have dominated the attention of all governments and international bodies throughout 2020. In relation to African countries, opinion shapers, experts, and journalists have focused on phrases such as debt crisis, debt diplomacy, debt forgiveness and debt relief. African leaders are calling for debt cancellation and debt moratoriums. Countries with alleged “debt problems” are being downgraded by ratings agencies. Our analysis consists of 20 countries across Africa chosen for reasons associated with their debt position, including relatively high debt-to-GDP ratios and/or relative dependence on Chinese credit. Accounting for over 70% of total African debt stocks in 2018, these 20 countries are the most likely to face difficulties during the pandemic, making them fit for focus and better understanding. This debt guide uses a compilation of data from the IMF World Economic Outlook, the World Bank, the AfDB, Trading Economics, Jubilee Debt Campaign, China Africa Research Initiative for Chinese loans, Christoph Trebesch et al. for China Debt Stock Database, DR’s dataset for debt cancellation and COVID spending, as well as the data from countries’ government websites (if applicable)
Specifically: – Figures for internet penetration come from Internet World Stats. – Figures for port infrastructure improvement come from the World Bank’s Quality of port infrastructure. – Figures for public debt to GDP ratio come from Trading Economics and IMF’s Historical Public Debt Database. – All figures for economic growth come from IMF World Economic Outlook. – All figures for budget balance come from the World Bank’s Fiscal Space. – Figures for debt sustainability analysis come from Jubilee Debt Campaign and IMF’s debt sustainability report for applicable countries. – All figures for DSSI come from the World Bank’s DSSI and DSSI Statistics. – All figures related to the African Development Bank come from African Economic Outlook. We collected the data during October and early November 2020 and the data might be subject to change when the guide is published. Data on the website is published more regularly.

Each country snapshot uses a combination of time series data, forecasts, and a qualitative analysis of each country’s debt position to explore debt levels, economic diversification, resource mobilization and reliance on Chinese loans. This report also uses a newly developed ‘Debt Transparency Index’ which aims to score each governments approach to making data surrounding government debt transparent and open to analysis from civil society.

This guide was written to be read and understood by those with a non-technical background. It provides a succinct snapshot of the current debt situation in each country, meaning the reader can flick through the guide and understand the debt situation of countries they are interested in, without being required to read the entire guide. Key figures and metrics can also be used to compare across countries, if the reader is interested. A glossary in the appendix also provides definitions and explanations of any technical terms used throughout the guide.

Why is this guide different?

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Our Approach
an “unconstrained” narrative

Our debt guide is not only aimed at providing factual information. It is also aimed at providing this information with a lens – an “unconstrained” narrative – that has at its core key principles of African agency, accountability and equity.


Our Team

More specifically, it is important for readers to be aware of six innovations of this guide that distinguish the information provided from others on this topic. They are as follows:

Our Team

More specifically, it is important for readers to be aware of six innovations of this guide that distinguish the information provided from others on this topic. They are as follows:

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