Sub-Saharan Africa’s debt pressures to continue to rise – Fitch

By Rachel Savage

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The external debt service burden in Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to climb in the coming years, ratings agency Fitch said on Wednesday, as the pressures of rising global interest rates mount.

External debt servicing for Sub-Saharan African countries rated by Fitch, excluding default-stricken Zambia and Ghana, will rise to $22.3 billion in 2023, up from $21.4 billion in 2022, the ratings agency said in a report.

A growing number of emerging markets are struggling with mounting debt loads, as inflation and borrowing costs have soared and left them locked out of the international capital markets.

Few Sub-Saharan African governments have major international bond payments to make next year.

Among those that do, Nigeria faces a $500 million payment in July, while Rwanda will need to pay $61 million on a bond maturing in May. Ivory Coast and Gabon also face payments, in December, of $56 million and $37 million respectively.

Graphic: Sub-Saharan Africa’s external debt payments to keep rising

The amounts rise considerably the year after though.

The World Bank indicates that total debt service due in 2024 will increase by approximately 12% to $25 billion.

Kenya, which Fitch downgraded on Wednesday, faces a $2 billion payment in June that year. Ethiopia has a $1 billion payment in December, while Ivory Coast, Gabon and Benin are facing total bond payments of $196 million, $37 million and $63 million payments respectively.

Zambia is undergoing a protracted debt restructuring after becoming the first African sovereign default in the COVID-19 era in 2020, while Ghana said last week it would restructure its debts as it struggles with the worst economic crisis in a generation.

The west African country also struck a $3 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund but is seeing domestic resistance to its local bond revamp.

“The risk of debt service obligations catalysing external liquidity stress into severe macroeconomic instability or default, as seen in Sri Lanka in 2022, will be more marked where foreign-exchange reserves are insufficient to provide a buffer against payment strains,” the Fitch report said.

Angola, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique have debt payments due in 2023 that equate to more than a quarter of their most recently reported foreign exchange reserves, Fitch added.

(Reporting by Rachel Savage; editing by Marc Jones and Alexandra Hudson)

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