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Debt Default Haunts East Africa as Covid-19 Shrinks Exports, Taxes

The latest data by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) shows that on average over 10 percent of export revenues and primary income in the region is spent on debt repayments.



East African countries face a higher risk of debt defaults as governments grapple with shrinking tax revenues, lower export earnings, and limited access to external resources.

The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified this vulnerability with debt-to-GDP ratios exceeding 50 percent.

The latest data by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) shows that, on average, over 10 per cent of export revenues and primary income in the region is spent on debt repayments.

Kenya spends 22.6 percent of its export revenue on debt repayment, followed by Burundi (14 percent), Rwanda (12.6 percent) Uganda (12.2 percent), and Tanzania (8.4 percent)

The debt levels have been brought into sharp focus by recent developments in the region.

In Uganda, the Parliament approved a plan to borrow $600 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to plug funding gaps in the current budget, made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read also: http://Uganda’s debt level approaches crisis status

In June, Uganda’s debt stood at an estimated $13.11 billion, according to a Central Bank report, with 20 per cent of all public revenues allocated to debt repayments, up to 100 per cent in a decade. The country’s public debt is projected to jump to 46 per cent of GDP in the current financial year to June, up from 43 per cent in the previous year.

In Kenya, the National Treasury announced that the country’s debt had risen to Ksh7 trillion, or 69.2 per cent of the country’s GDP.

“This, together with committed undisbursed debt of Ksh1.35 trillion translates to a stock of public debt of Ksh8.41 trillion against a ceiling of Sh9 trillion, which implies limited space for additional borrowing,” according to a Treasury paper released to chart the country’s post-Covid-19 strategy.

In June, Tanzania said it had begun negotiations with creditors over debt relief to manage the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, including delaying debt repayments meant to start in May to December 2020.

The International Monetary Fund eventually approved $14.3 million worth debt relief, while the government pursued up to $272m more in relief from the European Union.

Reduced economic activity has reduced government takings across the region, but Zambia’s recent default on its debt obligations has raised the prospect of more governments struggling to pay while incurring penalties and higher interest rates on subsequent borrowings.

Related: Zambia delays loan receipt as debt piles

Zambia became the first African country to default on its debts following the pandemic after it missed a $42.5 million coupon payment on its bonds in October and another this month. The country is now negotiating with the IMF for a $1.3 billion loan.

Rwanda’s Finance Minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana told parliament last week that the country’s debt outlook has shifted from low to moderate due to lower projected economic performance after GDP dropped by 12 per cent in the second quarter to Rwf2.1 billion, down from Rwf2.3 billion in second quarter of 2019. 

Kenya is servicing a $2.1 billion Eurobond, while Rwanda is expected to make its repayment of its $400 million Eurobond in 2023. East Africa’s economic managers face difficult choices between meeting debt obligations, and rekindling economies throttled by a year of reduced activity partly because the region had maintained relatively high levels of debt before the pandemic, leaving little room to borrow.

The region entered the Covid-19 crisis with significantly less debt legroom space in 2019 than it had at the onset of the global financial crisis a decade ago, with most countries at high risk of debt distress or already in distress.

Debt relief negotiations remain inconclusive with many donor and lender countries preoccupied with containing the pandemic and stimulating their own economies. While countries have so far benefited from debt service relief from multilateral creditors including the IMF and the G-20 debt initiative, private and institutional creditors remain reluctant to postpone payments. 

The IMF has yet to grant a request by developing countries to access its reserves under Special Drawing Rights (SDR). The Trump administration reportedly blocked the initiative because it will also benefit unfriendly regimes in China, Iran, and Russia.

Read also: http://Kenya Didn’t Apply for Suspension of Debt Payments Under G20 Initiative – Minister

In April, the G-20 proposed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) which was originally made available until December but has now been extended until June 2021. Under the initiative, only approximately $5 billion in debt service relief to poor countries has been pledged, which experts say is insufficient. 

In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to cancel interest-free debt owed by “relevant” African countries as part of Beijing’s move to help the African continent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

China, which is one of the largest bilateral lenders to countries in the East African region is owed some $145 billion by the continent; it is part of the G-20 proposal, but it is yet to make specific indications of what bilateral debt relief it is willing to make to its debtors in East Africa and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Covid-19 crisis has revealed the fragmented nature of Chinese lending as well as Beijing’s reluctance to fully align with global debt relief plans.

However, the Chinese Foreign ministry said the country has signed debt-relief agreements with the majority of African countries that have requested it, and are holding consultations with the remaining countries.

In early November, the Chinese Exim Bank declined a request by Uganda for a repayment delay on the loans needed to build $1.7 billion Karuma dam project.

Estimates released in March by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) after a meeting with Finance Ministers show African countries have an urgent financing need of approximately $100 billion to deal with the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, of which $44 billion will go towards debt relief for all African countries.

Related: IMF to Assist 22 African Nations With Aid

If the crisis continues, an additional $50 billion may be needed to support growth in 2021 including continued stay on interest payments. 

“Containing the pandemic permits a return to growth, but does not guarantee it. The ability of countries to finance economic recovery is highly variable. Africa, notably, does not have access to the monetary policy tools in more developed economies,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said recently during the G-20 virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, underscoring the central importance of the debt service suspension initiative.

“But this crucial programme will not be sufficient. Additional stimulus will be required in developing countries, just as it is in advanced economies,” added President Kagame, who has been actively lobbying for debt relief for African countries.

If fully implemented, the G-20’s DSSI is supposed to provide more than $12 billion in additional liquidity to the 76 least-developed countries in 2020, and an additional $14 billion in 2021, according to estimates by Africa’s high-level panel leading efforts to galvanize debt relief and mobilise resources.  

According to Ms Mama Keita, the Director, UNECA Sub-regional office for Eastern Africa based in Kigali, countries need fiscal space in order to cope with the crisis, save lives and livelihoods, and continue to provide the public goods and services under their responsibilities.

“Expenses of course include debt payments requirements. Obviously, without economic growth, the risks of default are increased.” Ms Keita observed, arguing that countries must create the conditions under which they can continue to experience growth if economies are to recover and be able to meet their debt service payments.

“We hope that the related conditionalities will be flexible and advantageous enough to encourage governments to join without fear that their access to international capital markets in the future will be compromised by a tarnished reputation as debtors. The fear is indeed to be degraded by the rating agencies,” Ms Keita said.

The World Bank says that between 2009 and 2019, countries in the region increased external borrowing by nearly four times, from $19.9 billion to $73.8 billion. Kenya was the biggest borrower raising the stock of external debt from $8.5 billion to $34.2 billion, followed by Tanzania, from $7.6 billion to $19.5 billion. Uganda and Rwanda accumulated $13.9 billion and $6.2 billion in external debt over the decade, from $2.7 billion and $1.1 billion respectively.

Related: East African Countries Amass $73b in External Debt

Now countries remain stuck between a rock and hard place. According to the IMF, without additional help from the international community, many countries in sub-Saharan African may find themselves in a situation where they have to raise tax rates to pay off debt and in doing so choke off near-term growth, adding to social tensions and trapping them in a low-growth, high-debt cycle.

Many countries have undertaken to put in place enhanced governance measures to track Covid-19-related spending, including independent audits of crisis-related spending and the publication of crisis-related procurement contracts (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Uganda).” According to the IMF in its 2020 October Regional Economic Outlook report for sub-Saharan Africa.

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Somalia Lifts Ban on Importation of Miraa from Kenya

Somalia had stopped the importation of miraa last year when international flights were suspended due to fear of the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, but when international air travels resumed, miraa importation from Kenya was still restricted while a different variety from Ethiopia was allowed into the country.



The Federal Government of Somalia has lifted the one-year-long ban on miraa imports from Kenya.

Somalia had stopped the importation of miraa last year when international flights were suspended due to fear of the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, but when international air travels resumed, miraa importation from Kenya was still restricted while a different variety from Ethiopia was allowed into the country.

However, Somalia has imposed certain conditions for the commodity to be admitted in the country which includes traders obtaining import licenses from the government as well as paying the appropriate duties.

Keep Reading:

Somalia Threatens to Exit Regional Bloc Following Verdict on Dispute with Kenya

AU Calls for Dialogue Over Kenya-Somalia Border Tension

Somalia Severs Diplomatic Ties with Kenya

Somalia Suspends Visa-on-Arrival for Kenyans from 13th Dec

Other demands Somalia gave Kenya ahead of lifting the blockade of miraa import includes:

*Kenya treating them as an equal

*Kenya desisting from interfering with their internal affairs

*Kenya to apologize for airspace violation

*Kenya to allow in goods including fish, rice, sugar, honey, meat and milk.

*Kenya must stop forcing flights from Somalia to make a detour to Wajir for inspection.

However, Kenya’s efforts to look for an alternative market in Djibouti are yet to bear fruits.

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IFC Lends KSh1.1 Billion to East Africa’s Largest Glass-Bottle Manufacturer

The company which mainly supplies glass bottles to beverages companies has been adversely affected by the closure of bars and restaurants in some East African countries as well as the restrictions on public gatherings.



The private investment arm of the world bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), has loaned a KSh1.1 billion to Kioo Limited to help the company mitigate the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kioo limited is based in Tanzania and is the largest producer of glass bottles in East Africa. The company which mainly supplies glass bottles to beverages companies has been adversely affected by the closure of bars and restaurants in some East African countries as well as the restrictions on public gatherings.

The IFC loan will provide the company with much-needed capital to continue operating even in a challenging environment.

Read Also: KCB Lending Capacity Receives $150 Million Boost For SMEs, Climate Finance

Kioo limited will use the funds to pay employees and invest in energy-efficient machinery to reduce its carbon emissions.

Kioo limited supplies glass bottles to more than 12 African countries including some island nations in the Indian Ocean. The company is also keen to protect the environment and aims to install energy-efficient machinery in its Dar es Salaam factory in order to cut down on carbon emissions.

IFC has been supporting Small and Medium Enterprises in East African through loans and equity investments.

In addition, the financial organization has over $5 billion invested in African businesses and financial institutions.

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MTN Donates $25M to the African Union



Telecommunication giant, MTN, has announced a donation of $25million to support the African Union COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Ralph Mupita, President and Chief Executive Officer of MTN Group, on Wednesday in Johannesburg, said that the donation will help secure up to seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for health workers across the continent.

This he said will contribute to the vaccination initiative of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“The devastating impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and profound, therefore, Public and private partnerships are needed if we are to succeed in the fight against the pandemic.

“The sole objective is to restore social and economic norms for our continent and our communities and most importantly the determination to bring lasting solutions to the disease,

“On Jan. 14, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairperson of the African Union, announced that the African Union had secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses on behalf of its Member States.

“Through advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers by the African Export-Import Bank.

“This was an important milestone in efforts to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for Africa’s people,’’ Mupita said.

He added that with a population of about 1.3 billion, Africa requires many more doses to achieve at least 60 per cent herd immunity.

Contributions by private organisations, like MTN, are therefore essential to help the continent reach its target.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, MTN has made significant contributions to help limit the spread of the disease and save lives and livelihoods within its African market.

This donation is another example of MTN’s efforts to help find lasting solutions to solve the challenges facing the continent and to guarantee a healthy Africa, for all Africans.

“We believe ongoing collaborations with key stakeholders across sectors are essential as vaccines are deployed in all our markets, with communication tools, technology and digital services being vital support infrastructure.

“Therefore, for a successful mass vaccination programme. in the coming months, MTN Group will look at similar support commitments for the markets in which we operate in the Middle East.”Mupita said.

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