Colonial Hangover in Global Financial Markets: Eurobonds, China, and African Debt


In October 2020, Zambia failed to make a $42.5 million interest payment on $1 billion in Eurobonds maturing in 2024, becoming the first African country to default on its debt obligations in the aftermath of COVID-19. Zambia's default highlights the fragmented nature of governance in sovereign debt markets. The Zambian default also underscores the continuing impact of colonial hangover in former colonies in Africa. Fragmented governance and colonial overhang create incentives for both debtors and creditors that contribute to cycles of sovereign debt. These cycles of debt pose a particular hazard to residents within countries that issue such debt. In African contexts, this has led to flows of funds for debt repayment that may significantly jeopardize the well-being of people who are already poor. Zambia's default also reflects the increasing need of African countries to navigate among different external actors, particularly China, which has given loans throughout Africa for varied projects, including infrastructure lending as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. The Zambian default draws attention to the significant amount of Eurobond debt African countries have incurred in recent years and the burdens that such debt may impose. The circumstances of Zambia's default, as well as recent disputes about external debt in Mozambique, reflect continuing issues about transparency and public scrutiny of sovereign debt transactions and the broader societal impact of debt internally within African countries and in relations between African countries and varied external powers.