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China’s African Debt Experiment

Uganda's Entebbe International Airport that was incorrectly reported to be subject to seizure by China due to debt default. KATUMBA BADRU SULTAN / AFP

The Financial Times today published a deep dive into the issue of Chinese lending to African countries and what struck me was how it crystallizes some of the underlying issues that aren’t necessarily made clear in the debt debate.

In the first place, it shows that Africa’s need for financing far outstrips both the available financing options and the continent’s current ability to repay them. The Calvinist logic that underlies much of this reporting from Western outlets means that they find it very difficult to steer this conversation away from sin. Even the FT can’t keep itself from referring to a ‘spree’ of Chinese lending to the continent – as if everyone involved were drunk. This logic tends to frame African policymakers as feckless, and the infrastructure financed as frivolous.

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