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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.

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.

  • Download the report in English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese

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.

Countries
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Innovations

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:

History

Our History

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1

This guide provides a historical context for countries’ debt levels – reaching back to the 1970s where data is available, not just looking at trends since 2000 which will in many cases show debt rising - since several African countries had their debt cancelled just prior to 2000. It also aims to distinguish whether rising debt payments occurred in the past as a result of new projects or increasing interest rates – which is important, since the former can have a material impact on lives, while the latter is just a higher cost.

2

This guide explicitly acknowledges that for each country, new finance is needed in order to meet Sustainable Development Goals, and such needs are likely to be higher the more in poverty that a country is. In addition, the more in poverty a country is, the less potential for financing from domestic taxes or savings, and therefore the higher needs for loans from international creditors. By making this need explicit, the guide makes explicit the conundrum that the poorest countries are in with regards to debt levels – they need more from outside creditors, but are often subjected (by other analysts) to the same “credit limits” as richer countries.

3

This guide looks and compares all the contributions that major creditors together have made in the past to debt cancellation/relief. In particular, it includes debt relief by China – who is usually excluded from such numbers because China did not join the “Paris Club” and coordinate with other bilateral or multilateral creditors to provide its debt relief. But recipient countries still benefitted from the relief. So we acknowledge this where it occurred – providing comparisons to other creditors for context where relevant – and also make clear when countries were and were not included in the coordinated debt relief packages.

4

This guide seeks to focus readers on accountability to African country’s citizens for financial decisions – as opposed to accountability to the international system. An example of this approach is the methodology for the debt transparency index. Another example is that with respect to COVID19, the guide first begins by describing the financial actions governments have taken to respond to COVID19, and then to whom they have turned to for financial support. This context is aimed at allowing for an assumption that governments are (usually) carrying out their responsibilities to citizens when requesting finance, not assuming they are acting in bad faith due to availability of external finance.

5

This guide seeks to ascribe agency to African governments. For instance, with respect to new financial support for COVID19, the guide does not, for instance, say that a multilateral or a bilateral creditor has simply given a new loan or grant aid – as some sort of charity. The guide makes clear that African governments have made decisions to take such loans or grant aid, and as such should be accountable to their citizens for these decisions now and into the long-term. For this reason, the guide also sets out terms and conditions of new loans, where data/information has been made available.

6

The guide points out inequities in the international system where relevant. For instance, it explains when/why only certain countries are or are not assessed by external creditors or other organisations for debt issues, and what this differential treatment might imply going forwards. As such, it helps readers themselves understand where the 2015 UN moral principle of “universality” that everyone and every country should be regarded as having a common responsibility for playing their part in delivering the SDGs – and therefore with all goals applying to all countries both as ambitions and as challenges – is not yet being properly and consistently applied.

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:

Feature

Popular Features

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Customized Invoices

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Receivable & Payables

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