Between Life and Debt
Most African countries spent more repaying external debts than on healthcare or education – and in some cases both – last year as the continent experiences its worst debt crisis in a generation, according to this report by Christian Aid.

The research reveals that civil-war hit South Sudan - where millions are facing acute hunger - spends more than ten times more on external debt servicing than healthcare.

In Malawi, where just 15% of children complete secondary school, twice as much is spent on debt than education.

Researchers calculated that African governments spent over 50 times more on external debt payments than the entire UK aid budget to the continent in 2023, with 32 spending more on debt than healthcare and 25 spending more on debt than education.

Consequently, millions of children are missing out on school and pregnant women are unable to give birth in a hospital, or even with the help of a midwife.

The report’s foreword is written by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who led global debt relief efforts in the 2000s. He claims debt in low-income countries is holding back their development and leading to lives unfulfilled or cut short.

Christian Aid warns that without tackling the debt crisis the Sustainable Development Goals will never be reached and is calling for urgent action from the UK Government to wipe the debts of lower income countries.

As approximately 90% of the debt owed to private creditors by lower income countries is governed by English law, Christian Aid is calling on the Government to introduce legislation to:

Tackle predatory private creditors who lend recklessly and charge the highest interest rates. At 6.2%, they are almost double that of Chinese lenders (3.2%), and far higher than multilateral (1%) and bilateral (1.3%) lenders.

Report author Jennifer Larbie, Head of UK Advocacy and Campaigns at Christian Aid, said:  “Decades after independence, many African countries are trapped in a debt crisis which is not of their making with no way out. Rather than building hospitals and schools and training doctors and teachers, they have no option but to line the pockets of predatory private creditors.

“The UK Government, as a former colonial power, has a moral responsibility to support urgent debt relief for low income countries so that millions of people can rise out of poverty. It’s a question of economic and social justice.”

Chief researcher for the report, Tim Jones, Head of Policy at Debt Justice, added: “Our new analysis reveals in stark terms just how much African nations are being forced to divert funding from crucial public services to pay external creditors. The figures confirm that the continent is experiencing the worst debt crisis in a generation, consigning millions to a life of poverty and ensuring the world will fail to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The current debt crisis is rooted in the 2008 financial crisis which led to a period of lower growth and stagnating poverty levels. These were compounded by subsequent shocks including Covid-19, the ongoing climate crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war, which has led to soaring food prices and rapidly increasing interest rates.

African government external debt payments will be at least 18.5% of budget revenues in 2024, the highest since 1998, researchers said. This is almost four times as much as in 2010, and the highest of any region in the world.

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