10 African Countries That Are In Debt To China

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
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An estimated 20 percent of African governments’ external debt is owed to China and 40 percent of African countries are at a high risk of debt distress. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in April 2019. AP Photo – Andy Wong

China is a major African trade partner and lender but critics have accused China of extending unsustainable loans to developing countries.

From 2012 to 2017, Chinese loans to countries in sub-Saharan Africa grew tenfold to more than $10bn per year.

An estimated 20 percent of African governments’ external debt is owed to China, according to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a charity that wants the debts of developing countries to be written off.

Around 40 percent of African countries are in debt distress compared with 2013, when 20 percent of African countries were at high risk of debt distress, WorldFinance reported.

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Here are 10 African countries that are in debt to China.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

China’s debts in Africa are mostly located in resource-rich countries, and this is the case with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has an estimated debt of $3.4 billion owed to China. The Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to exchange mineral resources for loans with China. The African country is blessed with an abundance of natural resources including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, timber, and oil.

Ghana

Ghana has an estimated debt of $3.5 billion that it owes to China. The West African country has been one of the fastest-growing economies globally, growing at between 6 and 8 percent in recent years. In November 2019, China announced that it will finance $2 billion worth of rail, road and bridge networks in Ghana, and in exchange, China will be granted access 5 percent of Ghana’s reserves of bauxite — a crucial source of aluminum, CNBC reports.

Nigeria

The most recent summary of Nigeria’s external debt stock published by the Debt Management Office shows that at the end of March 2019, Nigeria owed China about $2.6 billion. In fact, of Nigeria’s total debt of $81 billion, Nigeria owes more money to China than any other country it is indebted to, according to Bloomberg.

Cameroon

Cameroon’s total debt owed to China stands at almost $5.7 billion according to figures from the Autonomous Sinking Fund, the public entity that manages Cameroon’s external debt. Around $78 million of that amount was written off in 2019 — money that should have been paid in 2018 but which Cameroon failed to pay.

Zambia

China has provided billions of dollars of loans for infrastructure projects in African countries as part of its Belt and Road initiative in recent years, with Zambia one of its most prominent debtors. Zambia’s external debt, estimated to be 35 percent of its GDP, reached nearly $10bn in 2018, up from $1.9bn in 2011. Around $6 billion of that is estimated to be Chinese debt. Africa’s second-largest producer of copper, Zambia could lose state-owned assets such as power-producer Zesco to the Chinese if it defaults on its loans, The Guardian reports.

Sudan

The Chinese government has financed efforts to extract Sudanese oil and also contributed to major developmental projects in the country. In 2018, Sudan’s total debt to China was estimated at $10 billion, accounting for about one-fifth of Sudan’s estimated $53 billion foreign debt, according to TheEastAfrican.

Congo

In May 2019, China agreed to restructure the debt owed by the Republic of Congo as an International Monetary Fund’s precondition to assisting with funding. Congo’s external debt to China is estimated at $2.73 billion, according to a report by the French Embassy in Congo.

Kenya

Kenya owes China an estimated $7.9 billion in debt — having funded infrastructure projects across the East African country. China is reportedly guilty of aggressive loans with terms that favor the Chinese government unfairly. For example, a leaked copy of the contract between Kenya and China for the construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge railway mega-project shows that the country could lose the Mombasa port to the Chinese government if the National Railway Corporation defaults on the payment of $ 2.27 billion, according to Cadtm.

Ethiopia

Beijing also accounts for nearly half of Ethiopia’s external debt and has lent at least $13.7 billion to Ethiopia between 2000 and 2018, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Chinese funds have contributed to a $3.4 billion railway project connecting Ethiopia to Djibouti, and the construction of Ethiopia’s first six-lane highway, the metro system, and a number of skyscrapers in Addis Ababa, Politico reports.

Angola

Angola’s debt owed to China currently stands at $22.8 billion, with recent direct investments including an assembly plant for fishing vessels, an aluminum factory, and a brewery, according to Bloomberg. Despite Angola being the second-largest producer of oil in Africa, most of its precious natural resource is going towards the repayment of Chinese debts.