Africa’s Next Debt Crisis? Is Chinese Lending a Looming Disaster (Geography, KCL) NOW FILLED

Contact: Andrew Brooks


Department: Geography

Institution: King’s College London

Project timeline: June-August, start and finish dates are negotiable but must be Summer 2021

Project duration: 13 Weeks

Closing date: this internship has now been filled by Joris Gort

Expertise: The goal will be to write for an academic geography audience and to approach the topic with a critical perspective. Therefore a background in  development or economic geography and familiarity with Marxian or other heterodox approaches will be required. No previous academic publishing experience is requisite.

Project description: Chinese political influence and financial muscle is having  tremendous purchase in new territories. Huge Chinese investment is building roads across Africa, developing ports in the Indian Ocean and pumping gas from the Gulf of Guinea. The most significant aspect of China’s increasing engagement in Africa is the rapidly accumulating debt burden. African leaders have been on a shopping spree with somebody else’s credit card. For instance, Kenya borrowed $3.2 billion to build a modern railway line linking Nairobi and Mombasa. The line is now up and running but generating huge losses. Some borrowing might be prudent to help deliver badly-needed infrastructure, but much is poorly planned. The terms of the loans are opaque, and projects overpriced. With a Covid-19 induced global recession in the offing, it seems inevitable that some African countries will default on these unsustainable debts. In the 1980s Africa experienced a lost decade of development as a crippling debt burden and rising interest rates, following irresponsible lending and borrowing from Wall Street banks, led to widespread cuts in government services and the near collapse of health and education. Decision makers in the US were able to dictate policy and impose their will on African economies, forcing them to liberalise in exchange for debt restructuring through their control of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sadly, it looks like when the next bubble bursts there will be further pain across Africa. The purpose of this project is to i) Map the scale and scope of Chinese lending in Africa, ii) Identify one or more African country most likely to default on current debts, iii) Draw on experiences from the last debt crisis to theorize the consequences of the next and consider how China may re-shape the political economy of Africa. The output will be a single journal article submission.

Description of work involved: The student needs to review a range of sources: academic, press, government documents, economic reporting, to map the scale and geography of Chinese lending in Africa. Subsequently, a signal case study will be developed and theorized using critical approaches. The target will be a submission to a leading journal towards the end of the internship. A secondary goal, will be to write an op-ed for popular media summarizing the main findings to facilitate wider dissemination. Due to Covid this piece of work has been designed to be purely desktop based and can be carried out remotely.

Student benefits: This is a discrete and self-contained project with the objective of producing one co-authored journal article, first authored by the PhD candidate with the supervisor as second author. The student will benefit from the experiencing of co-writing and guidance through the peer review process. Moreover, drawing on the supervisor’s experience, once published they will work to promote the article across various public-facing media.