Photo/Africa Research Institute.

African Debt Pain Deepens, Creeping Up To Levels Not Seen In 10 Years

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EIGHT African countries including several with humanitarian emergencies such as Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan are in debt distress and a further 18 are at high risk, according to an October report by UK think tank Overseas Development Institute.

More than half of the external debt in sub-Saharan Africa is from commercial lenders, governments, and bond markets, not concessional lenders like the World Bank. Average interest payments, now approaching 1% percent of Gross National Income, are creeping up to levels not seen for a decade.

An international mechanism that helped resolve earlier debt crises, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), is not able to respond, according to an ODI commentary, so there is no international mechanism that can tackle the risks to low-income countries of the latest debt landscape. One complication is that important sovereign lenders like China are not part of the debt management grouping, the Paris Club.

Some low-income countries leaders have taken on debt under opaque circumstances, according to campaign group ONE. Also, if a country does default, ONE argues, vulture funds are on the lookout to buy questionable debts at a discount then aggressively seek repayment. Governments around the world have racked up $63 trillion in local and external debt, according to an analysis at the World Economic Forum. A recent speech by IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned that trust, which underpins creditworthiness, arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback.

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