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Covid-19 is acting as a kind of X-ray, revealing weaknesses that had been hiding in plain sight. In Africa, these centre on the need for infrastructure, and the limited ways of funding it. African debt was already hitting worrying levels in 2019, but the pandemic has made the problem much worse, in ways that will not only affect Africa, but also one of its biggest creditors, China.

An ominous sign came on September 22 when Zambia confirmed what many have been predicting for months. The government requested a pause on a $120m repayment on three large bonds, worth a total of $3bn. A new repayment plan will be formally presented to its creditors this week and depends on a two-thirds majority to be accepted. However, the fallout is already starting. Taken as tantamount to a default, the request led to a swift downgrade by Fitch Ratings, raising doubts about Zambia’s future access to capital...

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