Is Africa drowning in COVID19 debt?

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There is one word this week that we have been hearing a great deal. Debt. Concerns are being expressed by many international development organisations about the potential for a debt crisis, especially given the World Bank’s gloomy update of its World Economic Prospects.

This week, we decided to investigate the debt question a little further, on behalf of our clients, analysts and investors, and work out what is really going on.  What did we find?

First, our analysis reveals that we should be concerned right now about whether African countries have enough room in their budgets to pay for all the higher costs they are facing due to COVID19 – both in terms of the direct health costs and also the economic costs people and businesses are having to face because of the global slowdown in flows of trade, finance and people as well as social distancing. 

Our analysis shows that the total debt repayments owed by African countries in 2018 were 1.4 times larger than the budgets that African countries have now put aside to address the effects of COVID19 (which, incidentally, have risen by US$9bn since our last estimate two weeks ago, to US$53bn in total now).

That leaves very little room for manoeuvre unless those payments are somehow cancelled or postponed. The good news is that the G-20 – the group of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world including China – have stepped in to say they will help 77 countries, including 40 in Africa, to postpone the debts they owe to the G20 up to the end of 2020, and possibly longer. That debt is estimated at $20bn in total, but it will still leave a remainder to pay of over $56bn… New grants and loans are being agreed by World Bank and IMF member states, the EU is contributing, and China has pledged $2bn total spend to Africa. That still leaves a gap of at least $25bn, just to fund the bare minimum of what African economies need to tackle COVID19. Where will this and more finance be found?

Second, despite this really challenging situation, our analysis also reveals that we are skeptical of claims of a debt crisis. Yes, debt levels of African countries are higher in absolute terms than ever, but their economies are doing better than ever too. That means we are now at about 1978 levels of debt. Those of our readers old enough to remember that point (sadly, only a few of our staff!), will know the oil crisis in the late 1970’s saw rising interest rates on debt and led to spiralling debt levels thereafter of many poor countries, through no fault of their own. A repeat of this situation can be avoided, but it will require a shift in the international debt system, something our CEO has recently written about

Third, our analysis reveals that debt in the majority of African countries is very small compared to global debt and global GDP. Yes, there are certain countries that indicate challenges, such as debt levels larger than the current size of their economies (only 2 African countries Djibouti and Mozambique), or over 40% of their debt lent by the private sector (Mauritius, Nigeria and Zambia – NB: the private sector was the most intransigent in renegotiating/cancelling debt in the 1990’s and 2000’s for the poorest countries), or interest rates of over 15% on the debt owed (3 African countries Mauritius, Djibouti and Angola). However, this does not account for the majority.  That means finding ways to support the majority of African countries to avoid a debt crisis while avoiding increased poverty as we saw in the 1980s and 1990s is possible.

As always, our analysis reveals hope as well as challenge. What conclusion to draw?

If African countries are to continue manage COVID19 without seeing escalating numbers of people in poverty, debt postponement, cancellation and new loans are only short-term answers. The more crucial task is to find a way to reignite growth  – and in particular trade, finance and people flows to, from and between African countries, despite COVID19.

Digest our data below.

To find out how Development Reimagined can help you, your organisation or Government during the COVID-19 outbreak please email the team at clients@developmentreimagined.com .

Special thanks go to Rosie Wigmore, Rosie Flowers, Angela Benefo, and Jin Yu Chen for their work on the graphic and collecting/analysing the underlying data.

The spending data was collated from a range of sources including: the Milken Institute Africa  Trackerthe IMF policy tracker; as well as government websites and media reports. Other COVID19 data was collated from our world in data and Africa CDC. Debt data was collected from the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics database.

If you spot any gaps, please send your feedback to us at drteam@developmentreimagined.com, we will aim to verify and rectify asap.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Brian
    Reply

    Great article! thanks for the insight! Given the fact that the African countries as a whole are not in such a dire strait regarding their debts level, does it mean that debt relief may not be the go-to solution to help them face COVID19?
    Moreover, I have a comment about the Pie chart on the number of cases, deaths and recoveries, does the worldwide section contain also Africa case? or is it in fact “worldwide except Africa”?
    Thanks once again

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EDMOND BOSILONG

Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.

   HANNAH RYDER

    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.

LEAH LYNCH

Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.

YIKE FU

China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.

JUDITH MWAI

Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.

OVIGWE EGUEGU

Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.

JING CAI

Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.

PATRICK ANAM

Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.

ROSIE FLOWERS

Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

JADE SCARFE

Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.

ROSIE WIGMORE

Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.

LAUREN ASHMORE

Consultant

Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.

ETSEHIWOT KEBRET

Consultant

Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.

DIBEKULU MULU

Economist Consultant

Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.

OSARU OMOSIGHO

Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.

PIER FERDINANDO CINOTTO

Research Analyst

Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.

DAVID TINASHE NYAGWETA

Research Analyst

David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds B.com Economics and Statistics and M.com respectively.

IVORY KAIRO

Research Analyst Kenya

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.

JOY ENE

Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.

CHENSI LI

Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion

HANNAH RYDER

Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.