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Zambia: Yellen in Zambia to Discuss Debt to China, Public Health


U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Zambia on the second leg of her African tour, a stop aimed at promoting American investment and ties while she’s in a capital city that is visibly dominated by Chinese dollars.

Visitors to Lusaka arriving at the renovated Kenneth Kaunda International Airport see a facility expanded in 2015 with Chinese financing. A ride into the city passes billboards and newly built firms bearing Chinese signage, more evidence of Beijing’s influence and increasing competition with the U.S.

But the growth that the country has experienced has come with a heavier debt burden. Zambia became Africa’s first pandemic-era sovereign to default when it failed to make a $42.5 million bond payment in November 2020. Negotiations over how to deal with the debt load have been ongoing.

How Zambia’s debt is renegotiated with the Chinese will provide a test case for how lenient China will be with other overextended nations that face debt distress.

Debt will be a topic of conversation Monday when Yellen meets with Zambia’s president and finance minister to push for the Chinese to continue negotiations. She will also tour pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities benefiting from American investment to showcase what she sees as a model of success.

“Many African countries are now plagued by piling, unsustainable debt. And that’s undeniably a problem. And much of it is related to Chinese investments in Africa,” Yellen said Saturday in an interview with The Associated Press in Senegal, the first leg of her African trip.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends a roundtable with women entrepreneurs at the Délégation générale à l’Entrepreneuriat Rapide des Femmes et des Jeunes, a women and youth business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 20, 2023.